Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Positive Polly or Negative Nancy?: The Mind-Body Connection

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I can't speak for all the dudes out there, but I can surely speak for myself and all of womankind when I say, the mind is a dangerous place. Some of the thoughts that find their way into my consciousness are flat out ridiculous, not to mention completely unnecessary. Frankly, I'd like to put my brain in the timeout chair and never let it out.

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My latest read - Mind Over Medicine by Dr. Lissa Rankin - dives into the depths of the mind-body connection. The premise of the book is that the mind has incredible control over the body's physical condition, sometimes even more control than genetics, environment or lifestyle. She basically claims that the more we are able to control our minds, the greater chance we have of staying healthy AND healing ourselves.

I know what you're thinking... 'Really, Lauren? Mind control? We're really going there today?'.

Yes, my friends. We are indeed. I know the idea of mind control might seem a bit far-fetched, but if you're skeptical, I'd like to present Exhibit A - the placebo effect. If you've ever endured a science class, you've probably covered it. It goes a little something like this... Researchers tell a group of study participants that they will be receiving a ground-breaking, highly effective drug for their condition. But instead of giving everyone the hot new miracle drug, they give half the participants a sugar pill. Logic would have it that only the participants given the ground-breaking drug would show improvements, BUT in a surprising number of cases, the participants receiving a placebo show significant improvements, even in medical cases where the situation is dire.

The placebo effect points to the fact that the state of your mind is incredibly important when it comes to the health of your body and your body's ability to repair itself. When you are positive and hopeful, your body experiences physiological gains that support the immune system. In contrast, when you are pessimistic, unhappy, or stressed your body starts to react appropriately and your immune system takes a hit.

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Though we are incredibly complex creatures, our brains still interpret stress as the signal for a 'fight or flight' situation - something that could cause us bodily harm. In response to the 'attack', our bodies use the resources that are normally allocated to the immune system to fight off the 'perpetrator'. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that when you're in this compromised state, your immune system is no longer able to go about the business of defense and repair, leaving you open to illness and disease.

Obviously it's not possible to be a Positive Polly all the time. Life sends curveballs our way with the precision of an MLB pitcher. But there are many things you can do to cultivate positivity in your life...

*Spend more time with family and friends and learn to say 'no' to extraneous activities and commitments.
*Keep things in perspective (if you won't remember it in 5 years, it's probably not that life-altering).
*Remember to breathe (this little activity will do more for your health than you would ever expect).
*Find some sort of mindfulness exercise that works for you - prayer, yoga, meditation.
*Be conscious of the things you allow to fill your mind (consider the things you are reading and watching, as well as who you surround yourself with).
*Make gratitude a daily practice and consciously choose joy.
*Indulge in the food (yes, food!), activities and people you love!

I think Dr. Lissa Rankin says it best when she says to 'Recognize that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional'.

So today, play the role of therapist in your own life and work on some good, old-fashioned mind-control. Your health will thank you!

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