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The Mind - Body Connection to Improving Your Health 

While there are some in the physician community who caution against the use of such mind body techniques as creative visualization to the exclusion of disregarding conventional medicine, studies have made it increasingly clear that an individualís attitude has a significant effect on their emotional state, as well as playing key roles in prevention and recovery from illness. Harvard Medical School scientist Steven Locke, M.D. has commented about the mind body relationship in his coauthored book The Healer Within: 

Mind- body connection: What effects do positive emotions have on the immune system? 

Close relationships with friends and family seem to have a significant mind-body effect on the immune system.  Studies have shown that married people live longer than those that are single or divorced.  Other mind-body studies have linked happiness and positive emotions to longer survival for cancer patients. 

 

Do negative emotions also affect the immune system? 

The effect of stressful events on the mind- body have been well-documented.  Stressful events such as the death of family members, loss of a job or marital separation may cause marked deficits in immune system functioning as measured by changes in the number and function of specialized blood cells. 

Is there actually a cancer personality?  Some mind-body researchers suggest that there are behavior patterns such as suppression of hostility and helpless and hopeless attitudes that may place some people at greater risk for cancer.  In the opinion of many experts and researchers, the notion that personality determines cancer risk is probably simplistic and emotionally destructive.  Having cancer is bad enough without believing your illness is your fault.  The reality is that people develop cancer not because of personality deficits but because of hereditary predisposition to the disease, exposure to tobacco smoke or other carcinogens, high-fat, low fiber diets, and drinking too much alcohol and other known risk factors. 

Is there any value in the mind-body technique of guided imagery, deep relaxation or other alternative techniques? 

While these techniques may be helpful for enhancing relaxation and reducing anxiety they are unproven for reducing risk of cancer or other terminal illnesses.  Some studies have suggested that these techniques may marshal the immune defenses against pathogens but patients who use them should not abandon their conventional treatments in the belief that these techniques will cure them. 

Does laughter play a mind-body role in the battle against illness? 

The late editor Norman Cousins who wrote about his own personal health battle in Anatomy of an Illness, was among the first to argue that laughter does not play a role.  He believed that what made the difference for him was a sense of empowerment in being an active participant in his treatment, rather than relating his recovery to strictly the power of laughter.  Although he used comedy to induce positive emotions, he emphasized hope, a sense of control and loving support as critical factors in his healing.  Research, however suggests laughter may have some effect on the immune system functioning. 

Is there any truth to the proposition that hostile, angry people die younger? 

Dr. Redford Williams and his associates at Duke University found that certain forms of hostility including mistrust and cynicism have been associated with higher mortality rates.  Other studies have suggested people who are either too angry or never express their anger may be at higher risk.  At Harvard, some researchers have done a study of various psychological factors and their effect on immune system functioning. They found that people who were defined as being more hostile, had lower natural killer cell activity, which are white blood cells that fight disease in the body.  Some of the possible explanations included that hostile and mistrustful people may have poor social networks.  Some studies have found that the support of friends and family plays a protective role in health.  

Is there a mind-body connection that increases the risk of the common cold? 

Stress has been found to increase the likelihood of developing colds.  Since relaxation techniques have increased the immune response in some studies, deep breathing and meditation might be helpful in strengthening resistance to the cold virus.  Although this hasnít been well researched it seems worth a try.

Some information from The World's Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets from the editors of Bottom Line Publications

Additional Information and webpage by Paul Susic  Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist (Health and Geriatric Psychologist)  

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