The Impact of Mindset on Physical Health- Invisible Illness Awareness Week Day 4

Today marks the 4th Day of invisible awareness week and I thought it was finally time to finish I post I have been meaning to write for a long time.

CFS/ME is not a psychological illness! I am aware of this but for a long time I have had the avid belief that mindset can have an significant impact on recovery and the quality of suffers lives.

So I decided to have a little gander on the internet to see what I could find anything that could back up this belief of mine. I am not a sciencey person at all but  luckily there are loads of them out there in the world, so what to they have to say?

Optimism & Physical Health

Firstly I read an article by Rasmussen, Scheier & Greenhouse, who conducted a study on Optimism & Physical Health.

The purpose of this study was to conduct a meta-analytic review to determine the strength of the association between optimism and physical health.

The review did conclude that optimism is a significant predictor of positive physical health outcomes.

So with optimism being a significant predictor of positive physical health outcomes, what has it been shown to help specifically?

Few interesting studies show optimists may :

  1. Have Healthier Hearts – Could a positive outlook be the key to a healthier ticker? Maybe so, According to a 2012 scientific review published in the journal Psychological Bulletin .
  2. Have Better Cholesterol – A 2013 study,  from the Harvard School of Public Health, but this time published in The American Journal of Cardiology, found that middle-aged study participants who scored as optimistic on a test have higher levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) and lower levels of triglycerides.
  3. Handle Stress Smoothly – Barbara Fredrickson in her research shows that people who find meaning in stressful experiences — exhibiting a type of “silver lining” thinking — are also more likely to recover from the psychological pain of a bad event.
    What’s more, according to Fredrickson’s research upbeat thoughts had a positive effect on physical recovery from an immediate stressor: According to one study, study participants who were subjected to public speaking had heart rates that returned to normal in a shorter time span if they watched a positive video beforehand.
  4. Have Stronger Immunity-  A study found that keeping a positive outlook has an impact on the strength of your immune system. Researchers tracked first-year law students through the ups and downs of their school year. They found that individual students had different levels of immune response based on how positively they were thinking about things.
    When a student displayed optimistic thinking, he also showed greater cell-mediated immunity — a phenomenon in which immune cells cluster to respond to a perceived threat, in this case a harmless but provocative injection of a dead mumps virus.On the other hand, a gloomy outlook — brought on by say, a missed internship or bad test score — had an actual negative effect on the response of immune cells.
  5. Have Lower Stroke Risk- The largest study of the link between positive thinking and stroke risk, researchers observed 6,044 adults involved in the ongoing Health and Retirement Study who had not previously had a stroke, WebMD reported.Optimism was rated on a 16-point scale, and with every point increase in positivity, people exhibited a 9 percent lower likelihood of having a stroke, according to ABC News. Researchers haven’t pinpointed whether that association is due to a biological effect of optimism or merely the fact that people who look on the bright side are likely to take more steps toward total health.
  6. Regulate Emotions Better– In  studies of prisoners of war, U.S. Special Forces, earthquake victims and others surrounded by stress, Dr. Dennis Charney found that the people who bounced back more easily from trying and traumatic situations had a number of similar traits. At the top of the list? Having a positive attitude. Optimistic war veterans were found to have lower rates of depression and PTSD, The Atlantic reported, because of their ability to say, “This is a challenge, but I will prevail,” Charney told
  7. Live Longer –With protective effects against so many serious health concerns, it follows that optimism has been linked to a longer life in general. In a 2012 study of 243 centenarians, researchers found that most looked at life through rose-colored glasses.
    “When I started working with centenarians, I thought we’d find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery,” study author Dr. Nir Barzilai said in a statement. “But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing.

I genuinely could not believe how many things having a positive attitude could help, I mean I have always thought it was a powerful force but it left me a bit speechless, which is a rare occurrence I can tell you !

Today someone posted a TED Talks video on Facebook, it was a total coincidence that I happened to see it and it really fitted in with the post, but it really struck a cord with me. In the video Lissa Rankin MD looks at the way the mind and attitude can cause physical differences in the body.

Ted Talks on Mind/attitude and bodily responses – Lissa Rankin MD

Lissa begins her talk by emphasising the amazing impact of the placebo effect. And that she believes the placebo effect is concrete evidence that the body can help repair itself. If you need further proof, then one should look at the spontaneous remission project 3500 cases of remission from incurable illnesses. But equally the Nocebo effect is just as powerful where the mind believes something bad is going to happen so it then it comes to manifests in the body,

She uses two cases studies both published in medial journals to illustrate the impact of the Placebo & Nocebo Effect.

Placebo Effect

In 1957 Mr Right had stage 4 terminal cancer  and was in a really bad way, however he didn’t give up hope as he had heard about a new research drug. His doctor finally caved and gave Mr Right the drug on a Friday night not expecting him to make it through the weekend, but when he came in on the Monday he was up walking about, tumors receding and within 10days tumors were completely gone.

He was up and about for 2 months before a report came out that the drug wasn’t all that great, and he sunk into a great depression and his tumors came back. His doctor cottoned on and told Mr Right that he had a new pure version of the drug that worked not like the other stuff he was given, and injected Mr Right with distilled water, and like before Mr Rights tumors completely disappeared again. Until a national report was released that the drug was a complete dud, after which Mr Right died after 2 days

Nocebo Effect

An article in a medical journal documents a case of triplets born on Friday 13th and the midwife proclaimed them hexed and that the first would die before her 16th birthday the second before her 21st and the third before her 23rd, the first two died the day before their 16th and 21st birthday.

The third triplet knowing what had happened to the first two, the day before her 23rd birthday went in to a hospital and begged them not to let her die, but regardless of her efforts she died that night.

Scientific and medical journals are full of examples that placebo and nocebo effect are very powerful. For example you give people a fake treatment 18-80% of the time people get better. But it’s not just in the mind as you can see the effects in the body even though it’s initiated in the mind.

However the effect is amplified by being tended to by the nursing care of a healthcare provider, so to that effect the doctor can also be the placebo or even the nocebo, for example when doctors tell you your illness is incurable, you have 5% chance of survival or you have 3 months to live, this almost a medical hexing, a less extreme version of the triplet story above.

Lissa Rankin Mind BodyDo we need this caring healthcare professional for this to succeeded? Lissa Rankin came up with a hypothesis that in order to heal yourself, you need more than talking your vitamins, exercise etc.

But you need to look at your life/ mind as a whole.

  • Relationships –  People who have a strong social network are half as likely to get heart disease.
  • Spiritual life – those who attend religious services regularly on average can live up to 14 years longer.
  • Professional Life -also matters you can really work yourself to death- In Japan it’s called Karoshi and the loved ones of those who die that way can get death benefits. Those who don’t take there holiday allowance

Happy people on average live 7-10yr live longer than their unhappy counterparts and Optimists 77% less likely get heart disease than pessimists!

But How does this happen?

Basically it boils down to Hormones.

Negative emotions – triggers the stress response (fight or flight) –  The average person triggers these responses around 50 p/d however someone who is unhappy/ stressed/ lonely can have over twice as many.

There is however the opposite reaction to the above: the relaxation response– this is where the stress response turns off, and  healing hormone sooths the body. The placebo effect can trigger this.

So how can you change the balance how can you turn on these responses some great example she provided were to:  meditate, express yourself creatively, massage, sex, laughing, playing with animals.

Patients need to look inward at the various aspects of their lives and to look to see which one of stones is out of balance and what  your body need to heal.

If you want to watch the video in full you can here 🙂

My Summary

So what does this mean for CFS/ME? (In my opinion only and I am no medical professional!)

  • Is that when you have a caring doctor like I have had and you feel supported this is really helpful and can actual help aid your recovery.
  • If on the other hand you do not have the above and you are told by your doctor things like ‘there is nothing we can do’, ‘CFS/ME is incurable your likely to have to learn to live with it’, this can actually hinder your recovery by having a nocebo effect.
  • Whilst your choice of healthcare provider not fully be in your control, you can take steps yourself to improve the situation, for example:
    • Trying to look from the positive sides of things, looking at what you have achieved rather than thinking about what you could have done before you got ill.
    • Build in relaxation and fun activities into your schedule to try to encourage the production of the bodies relaxation response (good healing hormones),
    • Wellness WallHave a wellness wall or box filled with things to keep you inspired, I have a wall in my bedroom full of little quotes I find helpful, so when I feeling low or uninspired I read one that applies to me then to pick myself up again. Its only small things but it really helps in times of stress, pity or even pain.
    • I can’t stress how great mediation is, for those of you who think that its difficult and mystic it really isn’t on an earlier post I talked about some easy beginner ways to do it.

So whilst CFS/ME is not in your head, you can use your head to try to help the problem and to try at the very least to make the best out of a bad situation 🙂

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