The Mindset of Healing

The field of psycho-neuro-immunology has made great advances over the last few decades in understanding the relationship between thoughts and physical function. Specifically, pain and immune (healing) function, which were once thought to be separate from the control of the brain/nervous system, have been undeniably shown to be influenced by it.

This is supported by recent research that demonstrates that placebo effects are indeed genuine psychobiological phenomenon (Finniss, DG et al. Placebo Effects- Biological, Clinical and Ethical Advances- Lancet, 2010 Feb. 20). Past research over a decade ago has already established that the experience of pain arises from both physiological and psychological factors, including one's beliefs and expectations (Wagner, TD et al. Placebo induced changes in fMRI on the anticipation and experience of pain. Science, 2004 Feb 20). Decreased expectations of pain reduced the subjective experience of pain and the activation of pain-related brain centers in a study at Wake Forest University's School of Medicine by Koyama, McHaffie et al (PNAS, 2005 Sept 6, vol.102, no.36). Mindfulness meditation reduced pain unpleasantness by 57% and pain intensity ratings by 40% in a study by Zeidan, Martucci et al (Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011 Apr 6, 31(14) 5540-5548. A meta-analysis review of many scientific studies also supports the importance of cognitive factors (such as attitudes, fear-avoidance beliefs, and cognitive style) in the development of pain and disability (Linton, SJ, A Review of Psychological Risk Factors in Back and Neck Pain. Spine, 2000; 9:1148-1156). The body's inflammatory process can also be positively affected by our thoughts and attitudes, as new research has demonstrated that mindfulness training has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body (Creswell JD et al. Alterations in resting state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interlukin-6: A randomized controlled trial. Biological Psychiatry, 2016 Jul 1). Finally, a new study from Harvard researcher Eric S Kim has shown that women with higher levels of optimism had lower rates of mortality (nearly 30%) from cancer, heart attack, stroke, infections and respiratory disease (Kim, ES et al. Optimism and cause specific mortality: A prospective cohort study. American Journal of Epidemiology, doi:10.1093/aje/kww182, published online 7 December 2016).

Knowing and using this connection between your thoughts and your health can greatly help your healing.

Mindfulness is different than meditation/relaxation which only temporarily relaxes you during that practice, but not during the difficulties of real life. Stress is an inflammatory trigger. Chronic states of stress are associated with a decreased ability of the body to regulate the inflammatory response. Mindfulness training allows you to respond in a more positive way to any stress. This controls chronic inflammation and supports healing. You want your thoughts to be programmed for healing. This means peace and positiveness during both the easy and difficult hours of each day. Mindfulness training teaches you how to be more open and attentive to all life's experiences, and how to engage a positive attitude, perspective and relationship with each moment in your life. This takes practice on your part.

Start by realizing that negative thoughts about your pain, life's circumstances, relationships, etc. will never result in anything positive in your life. Then practice monitoring your thoughts throughout the day. Begin to identify just how much negative thinking (anger, depression, helplessness, jealousy, disconnectedness, unforgiveness, lack of confidence/inferiority, hate, impatience, greed, self-absorption, judgement/criticism/condemnation of others) is going on in your head. Realize that thinking negative (as well as positive) thoughts is ALWAYS a choice you make. Your RESPONSE to any given situation in life is entirely up to you. You can CHOOSE your thoughts. You must change the meaning you give to each moment and situation in your life, and shift your viewpoint (perspective) on all moments to a more positive outlook.

Replacing the negative thoughts when they arise with more positive perspectives such as: " I am healing", "I am loving and forgiving", "I am better than yesterday", "I am at peace and cannot be moved", "I am able and confident", "I have stumbled but not fallen in my progress", "My healing capacity is greater than my problem" will set your psycho-neuro-immunological system at work in healing your pains and inflammation. Practice this throughout the day and add 1-3 five minute sessions of intense visualization of your body healing per day. This visualization can be on a large scale such as visualizing yourself performing your favorite activities pain free, or on a cellular or microscopic level visualizing healing soft tissue fibers, increased blood supply filled with healing nutrients entering your pain site, or a healing force mending your injury.

As with any new practice, consistency is the key. When you make this mental "mindfulness" practice more of a frequent habit throughout the day, your physical body will be much more likely to respond. Just like physical exercise conditions your soft tissues, this consistent practice will condition your mind-nervous-immune system to have a new positive outlook, belief, and capacity. This opens the doors for new levels and types of healing.

You just may find improvements not only in your pain and injuries, but in other areas of your life as well.