The medical establishment has been proving that the mind can heal the body for over 50 years. We call it “the placebo effect,” and we know that when patients in clinical trials get nothing but sugar pills, saline injections, or fake surgeries, but believe they might be getting the new wonder drug or miracle surgery, their bodies get better 18-80% of the time.
While many are aware of the seemingly mysterious placebo effect, fewer people know about its evil twin, “the nocebo effect.” When I was researching my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, I became convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that a combination of positive belief and the nurturing care of the right healer can activate the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms and help the body heal itself.
But was the opposite also true? Do negative beliefs about our health or harsh care from insensitive doctors harm the body?
Turns out they can.
Harmful Beliefs Poison Your Body
As reported in an article in The Lancet, researchers in San Diego examined the death records of almost 30,000 Chinese-Americans and compared them to over 400,000 randomly selected white people. What they found was that Chinese-Americans, but not whites, die significantly earlier than normal (by as much as 5 years) if they have a combination of disease and birth year which Chinese astrology and Chinese medicine consider ill-fated.
The researchers found that the more strongly the Chinese-Americans attached to traditional Chinese superstitions, the earlier they died. When they examined the data, they concluded that the reduction in life expectancy could not be explained by genetic factors, the lifestyle choices or behavior of the patients, the skill of the doctors, or any other variable.
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!
If you’ve ever tried to set a health goal, you know how frustrating it can be. You try to lose weight - and then it doesn’t happen. You do a detox cleanse with the goal of reducing the symptoms of a chronic illness - and you wind up even sicker. You spend a fortune on alternative medicine cures, and your illness doesn’t budge.
It’s enough to make you pull your hair out.
Set Goals, But Release Attachment To Outcomes
I always encourage my clients to set goals, do everything they can to achieve those goals, and then let go…
I believe that while we can make the body ripe for miracles, we must accept that, when it comes right down to it, we simply can’t control the outcome. Yes, we can eat well, exercise, avoid toxic exposures, get enough sleep, and follow doctor’s orders. We can also be healthy in other aspects of our lives by addressing the stress-inducing factors that can predispose the body to illness - factors like alleviating loneliness, reducing work stress, and actively making efforts to be happier.
As I teach about in my TEDx talk, I’m a firm believer in balancing your “Whole Health Cairn”. When you do, the scientific data proves that you make the body ripe for miracles. But even so, some people who do everything “right” to optimize the health of the body wind up still sick.
When my literary agent Michele first read Mind Over Medicine, she told me that it changed the whole way she thought about her health. She said, “Before reading your book, Lissa, I honestly thought my body was none of my business. Now, having read it, I know, without a doubt, it is.”
Many of my patients feel the same way. A woman struggling with a health condition once confessed to me that she thought of her body like she thinks about her car. She’s not a car expert, so when her automobile breaks down, she takes it to her auto mechanic, who repairs it and hands it back to her - fixed.
She had the same attitude about her body. When it broke down, she’d hand her body over to a body expert - a doctor - and pray that the doctor would be skilled enough to fix her.
Is Your Body Your Business?
Is that how you think about your body? Do you believe your body is none of your business? As a physician who spent twelve years of training and ten years of practice learning to become a body expert, I used to believe I knew your body better than you do. I now know that, while I may have a better understanding of the arteries in the leg and I may wield a scalpel more expertly than you, nobody knows your very unique body better than you, and nobody is better equipped to prevent or treat illness than your brilliant inner doctor, which I call your “Inner Pilot Light”.
Your Inner Pilot Light is that part of you that knows what’s true for you and can help you align your life with that truth. When you make life choices that are out of alignment with your truth, the body reacts with physical symptoms that, left unchecked, become disease.
Think back to a time when you knew you were out of alignment in your life. Maybe you were out of alignment in a big way - cheating on your spouse or embezzling from your company or abusing your child. Or maybe you were out of alignment in more subtle ways - selling out your integrity in a soul-sucking job or drinking yourself to sleep every night or staying in a relationship with someone you don’t love. If you can remember how your body felt during those times, chances are good that your body didn’t feel so hot. You may have had headaches or gastrointestinal distress or a flare up of a skin condition or allergies. Or you may have just felt fatigued. But I’ll bet your body was signaling to you that you were off course.
In the foreword to my friend and fellow Hay House author Nick Ortner’s The Tapping Solution, Dr. Mark Hyman relates the story of Paula, a patient of his who was debilitated by migraines that landed her in the ER as often as four times a month. She had tried everything - dietary changes, sleeping more, supplements, drugs - but her migraines persisted. So Dr. Hyman, out of options from the Western medicine or even functional medicine toolbox, referred her to Nick for an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or “tapping”) session. (Not sure what EFT is? Read my last blog post about EFT here).
A few months later, after going on what Paula called an “emotional journey,” Paula was 100% migraine-free, off all her medications, and once again engaging in a healthy, active, fulfilling lifestyle she had previously lost.
Later in the book, Nick tells the story of Jodi, a woman who was featured in Nick’s documentary about EFT, whose severe fibromyalgia left her dependent on cortisone injections that still failed to relieve her debilitating pain. During a tapping session, Nick asked her if anything significant had happened in her life prior to the onset of her fibromyalgia. She confessed that her daughter, who had been battling addiction, was HIV+ and pregnant. (This is the type of event I describe in Mind Over Medicine as a “root cause” of illness.)
After just one day of EFT, Jodi was able to climb a flight of stairs without pain and sleep through the night for the first time in years. By the end of her fourth day of treatment, Jodi was once again able to return to the nature walks she had given up because of the severity of her illness. Now, years later, she is symptom-free, having released the guilt and sadness she had felt over her inability to “save” her daughter. By releasing the emotions stored in her body, her body was free to heal itself.
Do Negative Emotions Cause Disease?
I love what Dr. Christiane Northrup has to say about this. “We are responsible to our illness, not for our illness.
Kris Carr suggests that, rather than saying our mind creates disease, it’s more accurate to say it participates in disease. On the flip side, we can also participate in our healing.