The Body is Not A Textbook
When it comes to healing the body, I’m the type practitioner who believes it’s more an art form than a science, but only because I’ve witnessed what happens when we reduce the body to a textbook.
You see, for many years, I made my body a textbook. I figured the more I knew the better, and set out to learn everything I could about the intricacies of internal human landscape as I worked to heal my own debilitating conditions. I was the woman “doing everything right,” by all evidence-based standards, but who was still mired in fear, doubt and a host of physical ailments that left me hanging by a thread. And, not only was I caught in this puzzling web of confusion, but I still see it time and time again in my practice in women dealing not only with whatever diagnoses or host of symptoms they’re plagued with, but also burn out from all the routines, rituals, supplements and protocols of which they’re strictly adhering.
To be fair, these prescriptions and recommendations are helpful. For short term data-collection, plans and supplemental support can absolutely be useful, and I’ll never be one to refute the power of cleansing leafy greens or gut-healing bone broth. Yet, ultimately, finding out what the body needs to repair itself requires more than a pantry full of vitamins and piles of expensive doctor bills. Rather, it requires a gentle, subtle tuning in that starts with our beliefs about it’s ability to do so.
Many of us have heard of the placebo effect in medicine and health, but less so the Nocebo effect. While the placebo effect demonstrates the positive correlation between the mind-body connection (the body’s ability to heal itself), the nocebo effect points to it’s negative implications. Essentially, the nocebo effect is a branch of mind-body healing dedicated to understanding the correlation between the negative beliefs we hold about our body and how they manifest physically and mentally.
What I I want to discuss in this post is how certain beliefs and thoughts you may harboring could be holding you back from that which you want – to live a healthy, free and happy life.
Understanding the Mind-Body Connection
The mind is powerful, this we know. But just how powerful is less charted territory, particularly because our Western medicine culture doesn’t leave a lot of room for anecdotal, or what is often termed woo-woo, evidence. Without good hypothesis and proof, we don’t consider research like that to be valid. And we certainly don’t find clinical evidence to be enough to constitute fact. Meaning that just because I see something repeated in my practice, doesn’t mean it’s true. But, nonetheless, when all else fails and we’ve tested every lab imaginable with no movement toward improvement, its worth looking into what else could be causing the block.
Enter: Mind-body healing. Unfortunately, it’s still last on the list for most people after all other efforts have failed, but then again, I don’t really care how you got here, only that you did.
To demonstrate the Nocebo Effect in action, let’s take a look at a few examples that have been recorded throughout the years:
· In a controlled study done for a new chemotherapy drug, control patients were given saline water as their placebo, yet 30% of them lost their hair.
· In another study, control patients were given a sugar pill they were told could cause nausea. 80% of them vomited.
· Patients on antidepressants who were reporting a decrease in depression were told they would be getting randomized placebos – meaning they may or may not be continuing their medication. Both patients who continued their medication, and those on the placebo, reported a returning and worsening of symptoms.
Now, these are just three of many studies done on the same topic, but they aptly showcase what I mean when I say “the mind is king.” In other words, what you think you shall see. NOT what you see, you shall think.
Our brain’s ability to construct our reality is real, and worth examining if we find ourselves unable to kick certain illnesses, symptoms, beliefs, patterns or conditions.
How to Know If The Nocebo Effect is Affecting You
I often tell my clients to start out writing a list of things they believe to be true about their bodies. For example: If someone is struggling with chronic fatigue, they may list out beliefs like:
I’m always tired.
I can’t exercise without needing a nap.
I don’t’ sleep well.
I never know how my body will feel.
I’m just kind of a weak and sickly person. Always have been, always will be.
Someone who is trying and failing to lose weight may believe things like:
I can’t quit sugar, I’ve tried hundreds of times
Working out is really hard
I just look at food and gain weight
My love handles get bigger every year
My body was just built to be big
Bear in mind that these will vary depending on whatever it is you’re considering a struggle.
Then, after they’ve done that, I ask them to see how many on their list serve them well and how many do not. And by serve them, I mean are helpful to their healing. Most of the time, there are very few which serve them, and many, many that hinder their efforts and cause emotional responses like depression, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness and powerlessness.
When we get clear on what our beliefs about our body or condition or life circumstances are, it becomes easier to see what sorts of responses are resulting as a consequence. Simply put, if I wake up everyday believing that I am tired and didn’t get enough sleep, that is what I will most likely find to be true day in and day out.
While the Nocebo Effect isn’t widely understood from a scientific viewpoint (it’s hard to get approval for studies that knowingly cause harm), some researchers point to the stress effect that negative beliefs or thoughts can have on the body and attribute the physical decline that occurs in response to the Nocebo Effect. In other words, your worrisome and stressful thoughts about your condition trigger a physical stress response in your body which causes all kinds of symptom manifestations.
Yet, this doesn’t necessarily describe the “how” behind the specificity like the cases listed above. But, whether or not we have a fully functional explanation, it’s clear to see that the mind plays a HUGE role in whether or not the body will be able to heal, and I see this in my practice often. Which is exactly why I believe healing the mind and body must be done congruently. When we talk about root cause medicine, we’re referring to finding the root of the problem and digging it out so to speak to the issue can resolve. When the root cause is a belief, that must be addressed as well and can start with something as little as being willing to notice the beliefs that are working for your benefit, and the ones that are not, and then working to replace them slowly.
Even a statement as tiny as, “I don’t know if my body will ever heal, but I’m willing to hold out hope,” can be enough to open up the door of possibilities previously closed to you by your unwillingness to see them.
We know that the power of the placebo effect is real and mighty and can lead to dramatic, spontaneous healings in the body and mind. With that said, it would only make sense that the opposite it true as well, in which case, paying attention to our daily, even moment-to-moment, thoughts about our life could and would be worthwhile.
Til next time,