Over the years I have wondered to what extend do our beliefs infuence our physiology. Since the majority of scientists support that our self-belief and patterns of thinking can affect physiological functions, this is why most reliable academic studies always use placebo groups in order to assess for that part. And every now and then we see results of pharmaceuticals or herbal supplements scoring the same as (or similar to) placebo control.
Does that mean that the substance is ineffective? Or that the placebo effect is potent enough to outcompete the substance? It is rather difficult to conclude on that. While my scientific background makes me still suppport products mainly after seeing lab results outperforming placebo-controlled groups, I no longer underestimate the power (and importance) of self-belief.
From personal experience, but also from several articles and studies, I have come to find that our mindset, our system and patterns of thinking, affect much more than our behaviour or emotional responses; physiological responses can be triggered by accessing a certain mindset. Take meditation for example. For years considered a hippie habbit, yet now with EEG and fMRI scans we see certain regions of the brain activated or stimulated by short meditation sessions. Regions that can affect our overall health, not just the mental side of it.
Another example I find incredible is the infamous Wim Hof (google "Wim the Iceman Hof"), who encouraged researchers to study him and his students with high-end methods, only to find that they can tap into the autonomic nervous system (not so autonomic now, is it?) and affect core body temperature, immune response, inflammation markers and cortisol levels. A method that includes only two things; breathwork and mindset. It is therefore impossible to ingore the importance of convincing ourselves that certain things are possible. That doesn't mean that anything you believe will automatically become real (I am not into that game), but not only will mindset affect your day by day actions, it can also make or break your physical health.
What does this rumble come to? A few suggestions based on my current knowledge and observations:
1) Incorporate some meditation or mindfulness practice into your daily routine, to reduce cortisol levels and increase serotonin and focus.
2) Watch your circle. Many succesful people have stated that you are the average of the 5 people you associate yourself the most with. I couldn't agree more. If you spend the majority of your time with toxic people, negativity becomes a habit, a norm and it can affect your body as much as your mind.
3) Entertain the thought of the opposite; you have certain beliefs, some of which constitute a tremendous part of your identity. And when such beliefs (and therefore your identity) are threatened, you retract yourself, defending out of fear or ego thoughts and beliefs that deep inside, you may feel should change. Because if they change, your identity will not be the same and you are afraid of that void of what used to be a part of you and is now disproved or shattered (credits to my social anthropologist fiancee for all the above. I did not have the slightest clue about identity and I defended certain identities out of fear of void, more times than I can count).
But all I ask you to try is this; just in your mind, entertain the thought that you may be wrong and what that could result into. I understand that it can be hard to accept being wrong during a heated conversation, so first start by practicing in your head. Train your brain muscles to be prepared to be wrong, corrected, disproved. You obviously won't be in the wrong all the time, but just allowing your brain to access that mentality, you stretch your mind to reach beyond known limits of belief (think of it as brain yoga. You've got a certain belief, but what if you can stretch and reach beyond that?). The more I practice that, the more I engage in real conversations, eager to learn, without having palpitations in just the idea that I may be wrong.
4) Read carefully; we consider people who read as more intelligent, but I believe that what you read is far more important than how much you read. In a world where literally everyone can publish a book or e-book (or write articles like this one), pick where you will invest your time carefully. And as always, check the sources. Claims do not equal actionable material. Protect your mind from the noise.
I hope you found my little brainstorm helpful and if you did, or have any questions, please let me know in the comment section or in an e-mail form.
1) This one is a must-read
Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. Matthijs Kox, Lucas T. van Eijk, [...], and Peter Pickkers
2) The physiology of meditation: A review. A wakeful hypometabolic integrated response R. Jevning *, R.K. Wallace†, M. Beidebach‡
3) Cahn, B. R., & Polich, J. (2006). Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132(2), 180-211.
I am not a doctor. Any statement is not meant to diagnose, prevent or treat any condition or illness. The above statements are the authors personal opinions.