How Does the Way You Think Impact Your Health?
© 2016 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
"Disease cannot live in a body that's in a healthy emotional state," at least, so says author Bob Proctor in the film, "The Secret." "The Secret" -- which was not being shown in theaters, but rather was spread through a viral, grassroots marketing campaign -- discussed a centuries-old principle that has earned a "new-age" reputation.
According to the Law of Attraction, if you focus on positive things you'll attract good into your life. But the opposite also holds true: if you worry constantly and think negatively, you may attract more of that into your life.
"The secret is the Law of Attraction. Everything that's coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it's attracted to you by virtue of the images you're holding in your mind," Proctor said.
The idea is simple and very general: whatever it is that you focus on, think about and occupy your thoughts with will appear in your life. Humans, in this way, are like magnets, attracting into their lives whatever it is their emotions, beliefs and thoughts focus on.
However, says Katherine Puckett, LCSW, director of mind-body medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, while stress and negative emotions can certainly contribute to illness, things aren't always so black and white.
"We're always emphasizing at [the] Mind-Body [Center] that you never have to be hard on yourself about being sick, you never deserve it, and it never is helpful to be hard on yourself ... there are lots of people who worry, and who don't get cancer, there are people who are afraid they'll get sick who don't get sick, and then there are people who live a really clean life and are fairly stress-free who do get sick, so I'd don't think it's always so simple."
Puckett stresses that, even in the face of negative thoughts or stress, you should never blame yourself for being sick, and it is never your fault (plus, feeling that you are to blame only brings on more negative emotions).
The Power of Your Thoughts to Avoid or Attract Sickness
According to the writers, philosophers, doctors and scientists behind "The Secret," the Law of Attraction is not a new theory. In fact, they say Plato, Galileo, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein all used it to achieve success.
Delving even deeper, the Law of Attraction brings up the mind-body connection, which says your mind can evoke physical changes in your body -- for the good or for the bad.
"The mind-body connection has to do with the idea that what happens in our minds or our emotions affects our body," says Puckett.
"If you feel worry in your mind, you feel it in your body. And some of these things are obvious to us like butterflies or heart palpitations, or you get diarrhea from stress or you can't sleep ... then there's a really important one that isn't usually as obvious, but even more significant probably, which is that stress over time can affect the immune system."
This very real connection, supported by numerous studies in recent years, has changed the way doctors and scientists view the mind.
The mind-body connection has to do with the idea that what happens in our minds or our emotions affects our body," says Katherine Puckett, LCSW, director of mind-body medicine at The Cancer Treatment Centers of America. "If you feel worry in your mind, you feel it in your body."
"The central nervous system is not just a passive responder to the outside world, but is fully able to control many previously unanticipated physiologic responses, including immunity and inflammation," said Gary S. Firestein, M.D., professor of medicine, chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology, and director of the University of California San Diego's Clinical Investigation Institute.
In a study led by Firestein, it was found that in a model of rheumatoid arthritis the central nervous system could sense and modulate inflammation in the joint. By blocking key signaling enzymes in the central nervous system of rats, the researchers recorded decreased inflammation and destruction in the joints.
"This is an entirely new approach," Firestein said. "Instead of targeting enzymes at the actual site of disease, our hypothesis is that the central nervous system is a controlling influence for the body and can regulate peripheral inflammation and immune responses."
The Mind's Ability to Worsen Conditions
While studies are pointing to the mind's ability to help heal illness, others also show it can worsen many conditions. According to a report in the November 2006 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch, emotional issues and stress may activate or worsen certain dermatological problems, including acne, hair loss, eczema, rosacea, warts, psoriasis, and herpes.
A new field called psychodermatology has been developed to look into this" mind-skin connection," and the Harvard report says that mind-body techniques, such as hypnosis, relaxation, meditation and psychotherapy may help to relieve certain skin conditions.
So is Thinking About Sickness Enough to Cause Sickness?
While there aren't any scientific studies to confirm or refute this question, believers in the Law of Attraction certainly think so.
Meanwhile, focusing on positive thoughts and healing can also go a long way toward good health. Just remember, Puckett says, to make room for all of your feelings and emotions.
"Our version of being positive makes room for all the feelings that somebody has. I refer to that as trying to be real. There's room for all of your feelings and we want to be real about how you feel. I believe, and I've seen it happen, if people have the chance to do that, if they have somebody they can really talk with who really listens and takes them seriously -- even if they are mad, sad, scared, whatever -- they're going to have a better chance at being positive if they've had a chance to share all of their feelings."
She continues, "When people get a cancer diagnosis, or any major illness [diagnosis], it signifies a loss of control ... but you can use your mind to help the healing process, to make good choices for yourself, to take care of yourself."
Public Library of Science Medicine;3(9):e338
Harvard Women's Health Watch