I believe passionately that mind and body cannot be separated and that one influences the other. As a body therapist as well as a talking therapist, I have seen how stress can manifest in bodily tension, headaches and all manner of ailments. I have witnessed how skin conditions can be exacerbated by worry and how pain can be eased through the power of thought.
It is not rocket science, there is often a very logical explanation as to how the mind affects the body. For example, you have a job interview or a forthcoming exam and you find yourself experiencing stomach discomfort and you need to go to the toilet. You have a first date and find yourself feeling lightheaded and nauseous. The reason for this is simple, your body is reacting the way it has since prehistoric days. When you have an exam or about to face a new experience that is very important or in which there may be an element of risk, the stress triggers the “fight and flight” response. Your mind tells your body the there is a “threat” and your body responds by preparing you for danger.
At the first hint of trouble the brain sends out chemical messages signalling an impending threat. The body responds by preparing the either to attack or flee. Nausea signals that the muscles in the stomach are activated to squeeze and relax. It tells the gastrointestinal tract to empty the bowel and we urinate to clear the bladder. We may also vomit and perspire thus ensuring that we have as little excess in our bodies as possible. No need for the body to attend to digesting food while its energies need to be attending to the perceived threat. Our light headed, tingly body and pounding heart all point to blood being diverted to the big muscles of the body preparing us to either fight to the death or run for our lives.
Mind and body working in perfect harmony. Now, the point of this post is really to highlight that while mind and body are one and thoughts do influence bodily reactions; negative thoughts alone cannot give you cancer. This week TV presenter Noel Edmunds claimed that he had developed prostate cancer as a result of stress. The notion that negative thoughts can cause cancer or that certain personality traits make people more susceptible to cancer, is quite frankly, hocus pocus.
Yes, a positive mental attitude and using approaches such as mindfulness to manage pain and discomfort caused by the condition, or to enable us to live a better quality of life while getting appropriate medical treatment is invaluable. Negative thinking would be better addressed through talking therapy and expression of emotions, rather than blaming our illness on our psychological state.
Dr Max, the Daily Mail’s resident psychiatrist in an article on the subject of negative thinking and cancer, goes as far as to say that, ” blaming a cancer sufferer for their own ‘negativity’ is very hateful.” He suggests that these kind of ‘quack’ theories make those with cancer vulnerable to crooks and charlatans who may prey on their misinformed beliefs.
I can really appreciate how people may cling to the hope that powerful thoughts can influence the process of healing. To an extent I subscribe to this view, however, I think we need to exercise a measure of caution. If orthodox medicine is shunned because we believe that our thinking caused our illness and therefore our thinking can cure the disease, then that is such a shame. Complimentary medicine can ‘compliment’ and shape the way we cope with illness and it may also support orthodox medicine, but negative energy and thought alone cannot ’cause’ illnesses such as cancer, however much Noel Edmunds and others would have us believe.
Until next time,
Steve Clifford, Psychotherapist
Image: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons