Positive thinking begins with thinking and feeling positively about yourself. You may have heard of psychosomatic illness, when a person “thinks” him or herself into being sick. Evidence now supports the idea of psychosomatic wellness. The idea that someone can actually think their way to being well. For sickness and for health, what you think has some influence on your health and well-being? Here is why psychosomatic wellness can be a true thing!
The Mind-Body Connection
Medical science is making remarkable discoveries about how expectations, emotions, and thoughts affect our health. Researchers have found that one function of the brain, is to produce substances that can improve your health. Your brain can create natural painkillers called endorphins, gamma-globulin for fortifying your immune system, and interferon for combating infections, viruses, and even cancer. Your brain can combine these and other substances into a vast number of tailor-made prescriptions for what ails you. The substances that your brain produces depend in part on your thoughts and feelings. In other words, your immune system’s ability to heal the body is linked to your state of mind and your state of mental wellness. Your level of optimism and your expectations of what could happen can affect what goes on inside your whole body.
People with positive attitudes generally enjoy life more, but are they any healthier? The answer is often “yes.” Optimism is a resource for healing. Optimists are more likely to overcome pain and adversity in their efforts to improve their medical treatment outcomes. For example, optimistic coronary bypass patients generally recover more quickly and have fewer postoperative complications than people who are less hopeful. Conversely, pessimism seems to aggravate ill-health. One long-term study showed that people who were pessimistic in college had significantly higher rates of illness through age 60. We seem to develop a tendency toward either optimism or pessimism at an early age. However, even if your outlook on life tends to be gloomy, you can enjoy psychosomatic wellness by using your brain to support your immune system.
Some people seem to have more protection from disease than others. Their immune systems appear to be more efficient. Researchers studying these hardy people have identified three personality factors that stand out:
1. Hardy people have a strong commitment to self, work, family, and other values.
2. Hardy people have a sense of control over their lives.
3. Hardy people generally see change in their lives as a challenge rather than a threat.
Developing a Hardy Personality
Can you develop more commitment, control, and acceptance of life’s challenges? Apparently so, particularly if you start at an early age. You can help your children become hardy by encouraging them in the following ways:
- Commitment: Be a role model for your children by your commitment to them, to your work, and to the community. The more accepted a child feels, the more he or she will be able to commit to others.
- Control: Provide a variety of tasks that are neither too difficult nor too simple. Experience with both success and failure followed by success helps to build a sense of control.
- The challenge of change: Encourage children to see changes as opportunities to try new things. Accentuate the positive and teach them that life is continually changing.
Adults can also develop hardiness. Training to develop more commitment, control, and challenge has been proven to be effective.
There is no value in feeling guilty about health problems. While there is a lot we can do to reduce our risk of health problems and improve our chances of recovery, some illnesses develop and persist no matter what we do. Try to avoid feeling guilty, especially in applying the mental self-care. However, if your illness persists despite your best efforts, don’t blame yourself. Some things just are. Do the best you can.
Boosting Your Immune System
Your immune system responds to your thoughts, emotions, and actions. In addition to staying fit, eating right, and managing stress, the following three strategies will help your immune system function better:
1. Create positive expectations for health and healing.
Mental and emotional expectations can influence medical outcomes. The effectiveness of any medical treatment depends in part on how useful you expect it to be.
The “placebo effect” is proof that expectations affect health. A placebo is a drug or treatment that provides no medical benefit except for the patient’s belief that it will help. On the average, 35 percent of patients who receive placebos report satisfactory relief from their medical problem, even though they received no actual medication.
Changing your expectations from negative to positive may give your immune system a boost. Here’s how to make the change to positive thinking:
- Stop all negative self-talk. Make statements that promote your recovery.
- Write your illness a letter. Tell it that you don’t need it anymore and that your immune system is now ready to finish it off.
- Send yourself a steady stream of affirmations. An affirmation is a phrase or sentence that sends strong, positive statements to you about yourself, such as “I am a capable person,” or “My joints are strong and flexible.”
- Visualize health and healing. Add mental pictures that support your positive affirmations.
- Become a cheerleader for your immune system. Talk to it and encourage it to keep up the fight.
- Keep an emergency laughter kit of funny videotapes, jokes, cartoons, and photographs. Put it with your first aid supplies and keep it well stocked.
2. Open yourself to humor, friend-ship, and love.
Positive emotions strengthen the immune system. Fortunately, almost anything that makes you feel good about yourself helps you stay healthy.
- Laugh. A little humor makes life richer and healthier. Laughter increases creativity, reduces pain, and speeds healing. Keep an emergency laughter kit of funny videotapes, jokes, cartoons, and photographs. Put it with your first aid supplies and keep it well stocked.
- Seek out friends. Friendships are vital to good health. Close social ties help you recover more quickly from illness and reduce your risk of developing diseases ranging from arthritis to depression.
- Volunteer. People who volunteer live longer and enjoy life more than those who do not. By helping others, we help ourselves.
- Plant a plant and pet a pet. Plants and pets can be highly therapeutic. When you stroke an animal, your blood pressure goes down and your heart rate slows. Animals and plants help us feel needed
3. Expand your spirituality.
If you believe in a higher power, ask for support in your pursuit of healing and health. Faith, prayer, and spiritual beliefs can play an important role in recovering from an illness.
Your sense of spiritual wellness can help you over-come personal trials and things you cannot change. If it suits you, use spiritual images in visualizations, affirmations, and expectations about your health and your life.