by Niraj Soma Naik
We appear to have come a long way in the world of medicine with the eradication of certain diseases such as smallpox, the technology and skill to replace a non-functioning organ, and the ability to live potentially into our 90’s. With all these advancements, we are chock full of medicines from aspirin to antibiotics to Xanax. There is a pill out there for just about everything, but some things just cannot be healed by Western medicine and don’t need to be. But that’s not a popular belief.
Despite all of the great strides we have made in science, you can still find yourself at the doctor’s office being prescribed a medication before words of your symptoms have barely escaped your lips.
Why This Dependence On Medicine?
As a Western society, we’ve become so utterly dependent on medicine; and we clutch our pills tightly as we go on treating our body however we want to and not reflecting on what’s going on around us in our environment. It’s a rational thought to rely on science to guide our actions with our physical body, but we must use logic as well. Is it good practice to constantly imbibe chemicals to cure what continues to ail us? Why not pause for a moment and think about what has caused our ailment to begin with?
Perhaps it’s the Freedom or the Power?
In this day and age, shouldn’t we be allowed to do whatever we want without consequences? Shouldn’t we be allowed to binge eat Doritos in front of the television every night? Isn’t our body ours to do with what we like? … but that headache is annoying, or that stomach pain frustrates us. And it’s painful that we don’t have a regular bowel movement or that we’re anxious or depressed lately. Let’s just pop a pill!
Perhaps it’s the Ease?
Now, we can do most things with ease. Menial tasks have been made quicker and more convenient, so at this moment in time, we are at most convenienced ever in history! So, why not add medicating oneself to the list? It’s easy, it’s quick, and if it does the job, great! We don’t want to have to actually put any work into making changes.
But Perhaps It’s Something Far Worse?
In many cases, it’s the lack of education about medicines, the body, and the body-mind connection that cause this whole and complete dependence on medicine to change everything. And it makes people scoff at the idea of the amount of power the mind has over our physical body and it’s potential to develop disease.
Throughout history, we have made many illogical connections to disease that were eventually proved wrong by science. AIDS is only spread by homosexual men; trees nicknamed “fever trees” caused malaria in South Africa; or it’s acceptable to not clean your hands as you’re about to perform surgery. After years of scientific development, we’ve made adjustments in our beliefs. For example, now we take germ theory seriously, and we would laugh at someone who believed otherwise. So why is the attempt to make connections between mind and body often dismissed as lacking in logic and science?
Imagine a world like this: You enter a doctor’s office, and the doctor actually listens to you. They ask questions about what’s been going on in your life lately: stress, trauma, diet, etc. You’re able to explain everything. And then they make a diagnosis and present a solution that’s tailored to you. It’s not linked to what medication they need to push or the amount of time they have to spare. They genuinely care about your wellbeing and want to get you better. Isn’t that the kind of healthcare you would want?
Enter psychoneuroimmunology: It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it is a branch of science that studies the connection between the mind (emotions, attitudes, and responses to environment) and how it affects the central nervous and immune system. Studies have shown that there is a link between the mind and the physical body. The ILAR Academic Journal states;
“… converging data from the behavioural and brain sciences now indicate that the brain plays a critical role in the regulation or modulation of immunity.”
A study conducted in 2013 found connections between stress and immunity impairments in relation to certain types of cancer.
Not only did they look at chronic stress as an environmental factor but also depression, social isolation, and social adversity.
They call these bio-behavioural risk factors.
All of these risk factors have been found to link to immune impairment and inflammation which can potentially be the cause of many diseases, not just cancer.
In the study, those already with a disease who had strong social connections and who didn’t have depression, had a higher likelihood of survival.
Psychoneuroimmunology does not suggest that bio-behavioural risk factors are independent from other factors related to the physical body such as genetic predispositions, but there is a connection between the mind and it’s perception of events and the physical body.
Therefore, since there is a connection, then why can we not stop and think about how our symptoms could be the result of factors outside of our bodies?
Maybe that headache, heartburn, or stomach ache could be from a lot going on at work or at home.
Perhaps the insomnia or fatigue could be from depression, anxiety, or a traumatic event that’s occurred. So, before you pop that pill or let the doctor prescribe medication for you, take a moment to reflect on what’s really going on for you.
Unfortunately stress and tragedy are things we all have to grapple with at different stages of our lives. So, what can we do about it? The ILAR Journal explains that the potential for and amount of damage stress and the environment can have on the body’s systems vary depending on many factors. The amount and type of stress that is occurring, your current health status, genetic factors, diet, and the way a person copes with stress all affect the potential of psychological factors to affect you on the physical level.
Consider the below options as solutions to chronic stress and anxiety problems (results of environmental factors), which could help reduce inflammation, and thus help reduce the likelihood of developing physical symptoms and perhaps even more dangerous diseases.
Let go and separate yourself from the world of anxiety and stress and problems. Giving yourself the chance to be quiet and relax for a few minutes each day has been found to have significant positive effects on physical health and your mental state.
Create positive images in your mind of whatever makes you happy. Imagine yourself at peace enjoying a well-deserved vacation. Imagine yourself healing and well again after a long illness. Positive visualisation can help affect your current state.
This is maybe the hardest part. Stress is all around us! But if your body is constantly in a â€˜fight’ mode, with cortisol and adrenaline pumping, it upsets your body’s chemical balance and affects the immune system’s ability to function properly. See if there are ways you can remove the stressor or at least reduce its effect. Use relaxation methods, exercise, stretching, deep breathing, etc. Deep breathing is an easy tool to use throughout the day when the stress starts to become overwhelming.
Getting It Out/Attitude Adjustment
Cope with negativity in a healthy way. Talk out your problems with a friend or counsellor. Write down your emotions so that there is a place for them to go. Create positive statements that you want to believe in.
If you struggle with social relationships, working on a statement such as “I am good at relationships” can help affirm your desires to improve. You can create your own statements in relations to physical health.
The mind and the body do not stand independent from each other as it was once believed. They are intertwined and connected and affect each other more than we realise.
So, next time you feel the need to pop a pill or get medication, pause and think. What’s been going on lately?
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