The Healing Power of Thoughts

As much as thoughts can lead to negative feelings such as anxiety, worry, frustration, sadness, embarrassment and doubt, as well as the unhelpful behaviours that accompany these feelings (e.g., giving up, avoiding), thoughts are not all bad! Often our focus is on how the mind holds us back, how the thoughts our mind produces result in negative, damaging feelings and behaviours. While true, the mind is such a powerful tool that using it to enhance positivity and healing is just as important.

Since Paleolithic times, people have used the power of thoughts, through prayer and meditation, to heal the body. Recent scientific exploration and research has confirmed this age-old mind-body connection, showing the influence thoughts can have on our health. There is now scientific evidence showing links between stress and poor health. Stress has been linked to heart disease, migraines and asthma. Stress has been found to compromise the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to a range of illnesses.

Just as the worried, catastrophic thoughts involves in stress can make us ill, thoughts can also help us heal. The well-known “placebo”’ effect is one example of how thoughts can help the body’s healing process. The placebo effect refers to a change in health or behaviour not attributable to a medication or intervention. That is, two people may take a drug, both believing the drug will alleviate muscle pain. One person is given the real pain medication, while the other is given a “placebo” (or sugar pill). What often happens is that both people experience pain relief, even though one only took a sugar pill. Placebos have been found effective in alleviating a range of conditions including anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s and inflammatory diseases.

In one study, patients who were being treated for Parkinson’s were given placebo treatments (e.g., fake surgery, drugs). Usually lacking in the chemical dopamine, these patients produced dopamine after receiving the placebo treatments. Similarly, patients diagnosed with depression and prescribed anti-depressants often report feeling better immediately after taking this medication. Anti-depressant medication however takes between 2 and 3 weeks to show any significant effects and so this “feeling better” is actually a placebo effect. Psychological therapy is thought to have similar placebo effects early on in treatment. Often people report less anxiety or depression after making their first appointment and in the first few weeks of attending sessions with a psychologist. Often these sessions are assessment based and no real “therapy” is being done yet. This is a good example of the power of belief. Believing a treatment or therapy will work aids it success. Medical research reports between 30% to 70% of successful treatments may be the result of the person’s belief that the treatment will work. There is recent evidence that imagery and mindfulness-based techniques can be beneficial in treating a range of illnesses, such as headaches, arthritis and skin conditions. Imagery has also been found helpful in pain management. The power of belief cannot be underestimated!

It is therefore so important that we surround ourselves with people we are inspired by, trust and believe in. The same can be said for your strength and conditioning programs and recovery strategies. You need to BELIEVE that the work you are putting in is going to make you better at what you do. Any successful athlete will tell you that their major achievements have come from the strong inner belief that the preparation they have done will get them the result they are after.

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