Self-Healing (the ‘how’ bit)

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.

Bottom line?

When it comes to healing….

Anxiety = bad.
Relaxation = good.

There’s more but that’s a good start. For now. :)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy S October 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Very interesting read Craig.
I’ve been doing my own (sciencey) experiment of late. When doing interval training on the treadmill. Running is something that I’ve had to learn to love and I have discovered that I have a panic response to it. So lately I’ve been practicing relaxing during my interval training. During the 1 minute walking period (between the 1 minute sprinting period) I have monitored my heart rate and have found I can actually reduce it considerably by relaxing – rather than what has been my response in the past…..panic about the next 1 minute sprinting period. Relaxing and reducing my heart rate means my body is better able to perform and cope with the 1 minute sprinting cycle.
What I love about training is that it’s all an analogy for living and has taught me so much about how to better respond to life situations. I’m still learning :)

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Anders Hasselstrøm October 3, 2013 at 2:51 am

Interesting and not too complicated post Craig. Looking forward for the follow-ups :-)

Have a nice day pal,

Best,
Anders Hasselstrøm
Motivational Speaker

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Peta October 3, 2013 at 6:16 am

Cathy S – thank you… I have anxiety and when I excercise and my heart rate gets too high I start to panic also ( same responses to anxiety)… I’m going to try what you do.. As for you Craig- why did you have to tell me about the placebo medication!!! It doesn’t work when you KNOW it’s placebo!! Lol
Great article and thank you both

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Frosen October 3, 2013 at 8:12 am

Hi Craig,
I have read your stuff for a while now and never responded before! What you wrote today really resonates with me! Not a big believer in “traditional medicine”, but as I read your post…. I kept thinking…”How do I find a doctor to prescribe a placebo I don’t know I am getting?” is this a first world dilemma? I know what I need to do, but it’s like there is a mental block stopping me from making the changes and following through. Now if I could just find that Doctor… perhaps if I google? Surely there is a magic pill out there somewhere….Or could I self medicate

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berni October 3, 2013 at 9:18 am

yeah ……………..relaxation…………….let life flow….work smart
and have fun…………believe you deserve and state it and do it

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ajay October 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I look forward to more of these posts

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Sylvia October 5, 2013 at 9:34 am

I totally agree with all you have said. Ask me how I know….

A few weeks ago, after having a mammogram, I was told quite bluntly by a councillor – “I have the results of your biopsy, it’s positive, you have breast cancer”. Understandably, I went into a bit of a tail spin and then I collected myself and asked “what now?”

Five days later, I saw the Specialist’s Registrar who, after looking at my mammograms and checking me out declared “You do not have breast cancer…yet! You have cancerous cells which are contained but they have to come out or they will result you in having to have a mastectomy”.

If I was told this the first time, perhaps I would not have been quite so stressed and perhaps my daughter would not have lost 3 days of school because she was so upset and perhaps the entire family would have handled the news a bit differently. The very next day I ended up in hospital having suffered what I was told was a heart attack.

I then spent the next 3 days in the coronary unit of the hospital only t be told at the end of my stay “You have not had a heart attack, you have had some sort of spasm.” The cardiac specialist then gave me the all clear to have the breast surgery. During the next 2 weeks whilst waiting for the surgery, I was having these “spasms” at least every second day and sometimes twice a day.

I have now had my surgery to remove the rogue cells and, miraculously, I have not had any more of the “spasms”. I think these spasms were my body’s reaction to the stress caused by the way the Councillor gave me my biopsy results! A bit of compassion and a better understanding of the results could have avoided so much stress on me and my family.

I have now started to meditate, which has helped me immensely and I am now incorporating more natural remedies to help me along the way.

I still have more surgery to go, but I am now feeling much calmer within myself.

I apologise for the lengthy post, but I hope it may help anyone going through what I have gone through to cope with their situation.

Love your work Craig. You always tell it as it is.

Cheers!

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Nikki February 14, 2014 at 3:52 am

Dear Sylvia,
Thank you for sharing your story. It has really given me food for thought. Last night I cried in the bath feeling very sorry for myself. Other than being 40, fat and full of stress I really have nothing to complain about! This morning I woke up and after another rough start I realized if I don’t change my thought processes I cannot change my reality – and so far the day has gone considerably better :-) I even feel like exercising! Reading real life stories such as yours can touch the life of someone out there in a positive way. I wish you well and thank you again for the wise words and inspiration. Big Hugs! -x

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