The body knows how to heal itself. As I describe in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, our bodies are beautifully equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that fight cancer, prevent infection, repair wounds, protect us from infectious agents and foreign bodies, and even affect how our genes express themselves! But here’s what most people don’t know. These natural self-repair mechanisms get deactivated when your body is full of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine in “fight-or-flight” mode.
Makes sense. When your amygdala, the not-so-smart part of your brain that reacts to threats by tripping off the “fight-or-flight” stress response, signals the warning alarm, your body focuses all its attention on fighting and fleeing. Blood flow is shunted to your large muscle groups, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, and your body is on red alert. When your amygdala thinks you’re about to get eaten by a mountain lion, the body isn’t worried about preventive maintenance and the body’s self-repair operations halt until the threat is over.
But in modern day life, our warning alarms are ringing at least 50 times per day, flooding our bodies with cortisol and putting us at risk of illness. Your amygdala can’t tell the difference between a real threat to life and limb, like getting chased by a mountain lion, and a perceived threat, like fear of losing your job, worry that your loved one will leave you, or even anger that someone spilled red wine on your white carpet. (Are you at risk? Read here for 10 Signs That You Have WAYToo Much Cortisol).
The good news is that it’s easy to shift the body into the opposite of the stress response into the relaxation response, and when this happens, your cortisol levels drop and your body’s self-repair mechanisms get back to work doing what they do best - healing you. All of the following techniques have been scientifically proven to activate relaxation responses and return your self-repair mechanisms back to optimal operation.
[caption id="attachment_2066" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The audience of empowered patients and conscious health care providers in Munster, Indiana[/caption]
I was scheduled to speak in Munster, Indiana at 7pm in front of 300 cancer patients, their support people, and their health care providers. Mapquest said it would only take 48 minutes to drive from the North Shore of Chicago, but knowing Chicago traffic, I left at 2:30pm, thinking I'd avoid traffic, sit and work on my next book in a coffee shop with plenty of time to spare, and show up fully chillaxin’ in a relaxation response.
Good thing I did.
I inched my way east in bumper to bumper traffic, past downtown Chicago into eastern Illinois, until finally - still with 2 hours to spare - the traffic speed picked up. I was cruising along at 60 mph, listening to Pandora on my iPhone, when suddenly something in the road jumped up and blew out the two driver’s side tires on the car I had just borrowed from my BFF from my Northwestern days.
So there I am, at 5pm, in a full on stress response. My amygdala is rightfully screaming “DANGER!” as I try not to careen into the car next to me or get crushed by the car behind me. Full of cortisol and epinephrine, I wrangle the big minivan into control and limp my way to the highway shoulder, where my whole body shakes from an overdose of adrenaline.
Knowing what I know about stress responses from all my research for Mind Over Medicine, I take a moment to assess myself. I know that stress responses only last 90 seconds if we don’t add more stress response-inducing stories to them. As soon as my amygdala realized I was safe, my stress response should have shut off. But then the stories start.
I watch myself in slow motion, like I am an observer, watching myself in a movie, realizing how we let one real, healthy life-endangering stress response spin into dozens of them. ("Oh no, I'm going to miss my speech and I’ll disappoint 300 people! Oh no, it's not even my car! Oh no, how much will it cost to fix this? Oh no, I don't even have my AAA card because it got stolen in Miami!") And so on...
We all know stress is bad for us, yet many of us wear it like a badge of honor. See if this sounds familiar:Dude: “OMG, I’m so stressed out! I’m working 14 hour days and haven’t used my vacation days for two years now, but hey - sometimes you just gotta keep your eye on the prize, right? Hey, you still seeing that guy?”Dudette: “Nah. We tried to make it work, but it was such a headache. Relationships are just too stressful. Plus, who has time for a relationship when you’re on a deadline and you’ve got the boss lady to impress?”
You know the drill.
Many of us are stress addicts. We claim to want inner peace, but if life gets too peaceful, we go seeking our next hit of our drugs of choice - cortisol and epinephrine. It’s almost as if being stressed makes us feel important, valuable, and useful. What we forget is that we’re already worthy souls deserving of love and a sense of worth, simply because we are all little sparks of divinity, shining our lights on the planet.
Why Should We Avoid Stress?
Our bodies know how to heal themselves. In my new book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, I share boatloads of data about the placebo effect, which provides concrete proof that the body is equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that are under the control of our brilliant minds.
Our bodies know how to fix broken proteins, kill cancer cells, retard aging, and fight infection. They even know how to heal ulcers, make skin lesions disappear and knit together broken bones!
But here’s the kicker - those natural self-repair mechanisms don’t work if you’re stressed! No wonder Dude and Dudette wind up sick or injured!