Can a positive mindset heal? For anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease this question is guaranteed to stir up emotions.
Some might say: “Of course not, I live with the symptoms of my disease every single day and I’m in pain, whether I have a positive mindset or not…” Others might disagree but just for a moment, consider what Henry Ford famously said: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Many people believe that autoimmune diseases are genetic and that there is not much you can do about it (apart from taking medication to manage your symptoms). Even though genetics play a role, we now know that you are in control of your health and that there are many things you can do to give yourself a fighting chance to heal and recover from the disease. Healing is never guaranteed, but you owe it to yourself to do whatever you have to do to give yourself the best possible chance of living a happy and healthy life.
It is now believed by both scientists and functional medicine practitioners, that your behaviour can influence which of your genes are turned on or off. What you do, what you eat, what you think, the environment you live in and your resilience to stress all play a role in your susceptibility to disease as well as your ability to heal.
Hippocrates reinforced this when he said thousands of year ago: “The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.”
Let’s look at a few modern day examples
In a white, sterilized room in the burn ward of Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas, a physician meticulously removed staples from a teenage boy’s burn. The wound covered more a quarter of his body and would take years of pain therapy to heal. Normally, he would be shouting and squirming with each tug at the bandages, but not that day; his mind was far away from the hospital, immersed in an icy virtual reality tundra called SnowWorld. SnowWorld shifts the patient’s concentration away from their pain to an icy, virtual environment bathed in cool blues and whites, where their only task is to throw snowballs at an endlessly advancing group of penguins. It might seem silly, but the results speak for themselves: burn patients experienced 35 to 50 percent less pain when immersed in VR, about the same reduction as a moderate dose of opioid painkillers.
My 10-year old daughter recently had a terrible fall. She was riding her bicycle, lost control and fell on a rough tar road. Now, she didn’t break any bones but she had severe abrasions (road rash) on here knee, elbow and hip. We rushed home to clean up the wound but it was almost impossible to touch the abrasion as she was in too much pain. I knew it was critical to clean the wound and I had to come up with a plan. So I gave her, her iPad and told her to play her favourite game, Minecraft. I couldn’t believe what happened next. She was so immersed in the game that she didn’t even notice me touching and cleaning her wound.
Have you ever felt a surge of adrenaline after narrowly avoiding an accident? Salivated at the sight (or thought) of a sour lemon? Felt turned on just from hearing your partner’s voice? If so, then you’ve experienced how dramatically the workings of your mind can affect your body.
Yet while we accept that stress or anxiety can damage our health, the idea of “healing thoughts” was long ago hijacked by New Age gurus and spiritual healers. Recently, however, serious scientists from a range of fields have been uncovering evidence that our thoughts, emotions and beliefs can ease pain, heal wounds, fend off infection and heart disease and even slow the progression of AIDS and some cancers.
In her book Cure, award-winning science writer Jo Marchant explores the vast potential of the mind’s ability to heal, lays out its limitations and explains how we can make use of the findings in our own lives.
We’ve been led to believe that when we get sick, it’s our genetics. Or it’s just bad luck—and doctors alone hold the keys to optimal health. Therefore when Dr. Lissa Rankin’s own health started to suffer, she turned to Western medical treatments, but what she found was that they not only failed to help; they made her worse. So she decided to take matters into her own hands. Through her research, Dr. Rankin discovered that the health care she had been taught to practice was missing something crucial: a recognition of the body’s innate ability to self-repair and an appreciation for how we can control these self-healing mechanisms with the power of the mind.
To better understand this phenomenon, she explored peer-reviewed medical literature and found evidence that the medical establishment had been proving that the body can heal itself for over 50 years. Using extraordinary cases of spontaneous healing, Dr. Rankin shows how thoughts, feelings, and beliefs can alter the body’s physiology in her book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.
I have a friend who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer just over 7 months ago. When she was diagnosed, she couldn’t understand why it happened as she’s always been a very healthy person. She eats organic food and uses natural and toxin free cleaning and skin care products. When I spoke to her a few weeks after the diagnosis she was surprisingly positive and told me that she’s going to beat this. She did all the treatments, never complained and according to her, chemo and radiation is really not that bad. A month ago she was told by her doctors that the cancer is completely gone. I can’t help to think that her positive mindset made all the difference.
I get it, living with an autoimmune disease is not easy. And when you’re sick and in pain it is difficult to think positive. But on the good days, why not spend your time nurturing a positive mindset and over time, you might be surprised by the results.