Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, illness strikes. Whether it’s something as easy to deal with as a cold, or something more serious like cancer, a growing body of evidence points to your mind-set as a key factor in physical disease. Not only is illness more common the more stressed or depressed you are, but a positive mind-set can actually help you heal your body.
Stress, Depression and Illness
Lifestyle is often pointed to as the number one cause of modern diseases, from hypertension to diabetes to cancer. The finger is rightly pointed at processed foods and excess sugar as the culprits. But the increasing amounts of stress we have to deal with are also to blame.
In a study published in the Lancet, scientists confirmed the link between mental health and impaired immune functions. They found chronic stress and depression reduce the immune system’s ability to keep tumours in check, and to produce natural-killer-cells—the kinds of cells you want plenty of when you’re fighting a disease. This is little wonder when we consider how high levels of stress can impact on physical health.
Psychological stress puts a high strain on your body by triggering your fight-or-flight response. This causes cortisol to be released, which in turn affects your immune system, increases blood pressure and blood glucose levels. The fight-or-flight response mobilizes cells for immediate action (to fight or run away). But to do so, it has to divert them from their usual tasks (for example digestion), leaving your body more prone to disease and infections.
The more depressed we are, the less motivated we are. Depression and anxiety are characterized by sadness, hopelessness, apathy, disturbed sleep, disrupted appetite, loss of interest, low self-worth and tiredness. Feeling like this is bad enough when your physical health is ok, but it makes dealing with an illness even more of a challenge.
Your mind-set becomes even more significant when you are diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer. A lower quality of life, restrictive regimes, doctors’ appointments and worrying about operations all conspire to increase your risk of depression and anxiety. And this can weaken your immune system at a time when you need it to be fighting fit. This is particularly important if you’re going through chemotherapy, which is known to weaken your immune system.
Thinking Yourself Healthy
Maintaining a happy mind-set isn’t just important for your general wellbeing, it is a proven self-healing strategy. The first ground-breaking study on the power of positive thinking was published in 1985. Since then, an increasing number of scientists have studied the health effects of an optimistic mind-set. A study published in the Journal ARYA Atherosclerosis in 2015 found that a positive attitude not only improves spiritual health, but also accelerates healing times for patients with coronary heart disease.
Theories looking at the exact mechanisms behind this seemingly miraculous connection are numerous. Some point to the purely scientific, looking at the way cells react to physical stressors like cortisol. Others look at the role of energy, specifically love, as a healing technique as powerful as flooding your body with antioxidants.
Self-acceptance, a connection with the divine, feelings of love and gratitude are all healing emotions which can speed up your recovery and help you deal with any disease. So, how can you cultivate a positive mind-set and optimistic outlook? These tips should get you started!
1. Each day is a new day
2. Be grateful
3. Be your own best friend
Every day is a blank canvas on which you can paint a beautiful picture. While it may be tempting to do so, don’t carry yesterday’s frustrations or fears into your new day. Upon waking, set your intention to make the most of the day, regardless of what yesterday brought. Tell yourself: This is a new day, I choose to make it wonderful.
Wherever you are in your health journey, there are always people whose situation is worse than yours. Tell yourself how good you’ve got it. Focus on the support you receive from friends and family. Be thankful for the comfort of your home. Be grateful for the lessons your disease is providing you. If you can find gratitude for your situation, however difficult it is, you will be one step closer to healing yourself.
It’s easy to fall into feelings of guilt and self-recrimination when you are unwell. Thinking of what you should have done differently, or berating yourself for smoking or eating too many cakes. But these feelings will only make you feel worse. Instead of telling yourself off, treat yourself as you would treat a cherished friend. Give yourself the rest and nourishment you need in this difficult time, and do so with love.
You don’t have to be a monk or a yogi to experience the benefits of meditation. When you meditate, your brain waves change from beta waves to delta and gamma brain waves, which are associated with healing, rejuvenation, and can boost your immune system. Take five to ten minutes a day to sit in silence, let go of your mental chatter, quieten your mind, and visualise healing light penetrating your cells. Gently keep your attention on your breath.
A New Way to Heal
Your mind-set is a critical part of the healing process. If you are struggling with a health condition, you can take a multi-pronged approach to your recovery. In addition to a healthy diet, speed up your healing process with a positive mind-set. Make a conscious decision to let go of the negative thought patterns and think yourself healthy.