Too Much Info
So, I started writing some long-winded, sciencey-sounding, overly-complicated follow up to our last post on self-healing but when I hit the pause button and took a moment to read what I’d typed, even I was bored. And maybe a little confused. By the time I got to the bit where the amygdala communicates with the hypothalamus, which in turn communicates with the pituitary gland, which in turn talks to the adrenal gland to produce a range of curious biochemical changes leading to a multitude of potential physiological healing consequences, I realised that I may have been about to induce a group coma.
Lucky for you I pressed ‘delete’ and started again.
While I considered (okay, began to write) an in-depth exploration of the science behind the phenomenon of self-healing, I have now decided to bypass the stuff most of you don’t really want or need to know (and would probably forget) and to cut to the chase. Well, try to.
Here it is…
A while back, a clever dude from the Harvard Medical School called Herbert Benson identified that placebos have an amazing capacity to switch on something he refers to as ‘the Relaxation Response’. Well technically, the placebo does nothing; the patient’s mind actually creates the response. Their belief in the fake medication transforms their physiology from a state of stress to one of relaxation. After much study in this area, it is now broadly accepted that a body can only heal when it is in a state of relaxation. So, if you are something of a hypochondriac or an over-thinker (or both), you may want to read that last sentence ten times and staple it to your forehead. Calmly.
And take a deep breath and exhale s-l-o-w-l-y.
When someone is stressed, fearful and anxious as people often are when they discover (or think) that they are sick, the sympathetic nervous system (you have one of those) switches on and as a result, various other systems of the body (endocrine, muscular, respiratory, cardio-vascular) are switched to ‘fight or flight’ mode. When the body is in this state (stressed), its priority is survival in the short term (right now), so health and healing over the medium to long term take a back seat until the immediate danger (the perceived axe-murderer in the next room) has been dealt with.
A Placebo Story…
Bill believes he is sick (imagining the worst – as men do) and as a result, he is physically, mentally and emotionally stressed because of his fear. His thinking has sent his heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and stress hormone (cortisol, adrenaline) levels through the roof. The doctor (whom he trusts and respects), talks to him in a calm, confident and reassuring voice, gives him a placebo and tells him it’s the latest wonder-drug. As a result, Bill totally relaxes. He can literally feel the stress and fear leaving his body. Fortunately for Bill, he totally believes the shifty but well-meaning doc and not long after taking the ‘medication’, his symptoms begin to subside, his level of function improves, his pain disappears, his mindset switches from negative to positive, his emotional state transforms for the better and his healing begins. Real healing.
The quick version?
The belief in the treatment causes the patient to relax which in turn creates a literal physiological change in all the above-mentioned systems which puts the body into a ‘healing’ state.
When it comes to healing….
Anxiety = bad.
Relaxation = good.
There’s more but that’s a good start. For now.