It’s been a while since I posted. This post is longer and contains a health update; it’ll take approx. 9 mins of your day.
We all know that our thoughts are powerful, but did you know that our beliefs impact our actual physical health? I guess it doesn’t seem far out there, but I never gave it a lot of thought…until two weeks ago.
I was blessed with the opportunity to take part in a masterclass on detoxing and toxicity. In one of the classes (Appropriately Pacing Detox for People with Chronic Illnesses), the doctor of clinical nutrition who led the class talked about our beliefs and how they impact our physical bodies. She explained that “fear can be more damaging [to the body] than actual exposure to a toxin;” this surprised me and is, probably, one reason why “Do not fear” is displayed all over Scripture. She also mentioned that changing someone’s beliefs about their illness can positively improve their chronic pain levels (up to 14%) during rehab. If a person believes they have control over their treatment options, this belief also makes a striking impact on his or her ability to manage chronic illness(es), especially in kiddos.1
“Pain” is when we encounter something (including an event) that triggers a reaction in an organ or tissue; this encounter can be from outside OR inside our bodies. “The information regarding the [actual OR potential] damaging impact of these [encounters] on bodily tissues is [converted] through neural pathways and [passed on] through the peripheral nervous system to the central and autonomic nervous systems.”4 Belief and safety are valid factors, when it comes to the autonomic nervous system (a part of the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord that regulates the functions of the body that you don’t really think about, like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion). Amazingly enough, if there’s stress on this system (from belief systems, unsafe feelings, etc.), there’s a high risk of cardiac and/or neurologic damage.1
At the end of each class, the masterclass host did a follow-up Q & A with the instructor. During that time (and to illustrate the doctor’s points above), the host shared about his wife, an ER nurse, who had dealt with a lot of pain! She’d tried all sorts of things and was coming up short…until she met a particular doctor. The doctor she met took time with her, listened, and validated the reality of what she was experiencing. They came up with a treatment plan, and he told her he’d write her a doctor’s note for work–that she needed to take six weeks off and rest. Then, and only then, would they be able to attempt to work into the treatment plan. Not all people work for someone who’d allow them to have six weeks off (doctor’s note or not), but for her, the combination of the doctor’s approach, knowing that someone was on her side, that there was a reason behind the approach (not just shoving “fixes” at her), and the thought of allowing her body time to rest had a profound impact on her physically! After meeting with that doctor (before ANY treatment was put in place), her pain reduced by a good 50%!!1
Please hear me! Physical issues are physical issues and NOT just dreamt up in the head, like some people think (I know this full well)! It’s just amazing to me how much we can help or hurt them with the thoughts that accompany them! Pain is just one example and, “whether linked with injured tissue, inflammation, or functional impairment, [it’s] mediated by processing in the nervous system. In this sense, all pain is physical. Yet, regardless of its source, pain may result in hypervigilance, threat appraisals, emotional reactions, and avoidant behavior. So in this sense, all pain is psychological.”4
As the class was ending, I was thinking there was food for thought regarding this area, but it wasn’t until the host said something else that I realized how much. He mentioned that there were probably people listening who felt like they might never get better; wondering why things worked for other people, but they didn’t work for them; that there was something wrong with them. Tears streamed from my eyes. “Yes! That’s me!” I thought.
Some of you may know that I’ve had a set-back, if you will. I rarely have symptom-free days, and I went down, again, for a week and a half stint this past month, which hasn’t happened in a long time. This confused me and surfaced a lot of questions!
As much as I’ve tried to keep a positive attitude and look for the good in all of this, this last stint has taken more of a subconscious toll than I realized, and I’m sure, knowing this, I haven’t helped my body any with my myriad of self-questioning thoughts.
It turns out, I now have a reason for my set-back: Chronic illnesses are, indeed, special and require a different approach. Unfortunately, I dove head-first into detoxing before my body was correctly supported and nourished, and it wasn’t physically able to handle the detox process properly. This, actually, broke down toxins in my body only to make them more toxic and lacking the proper, supported pathways to get rid of them. Strangely enough, knowing the reason, being armed with new information (including new steps I can take), and being “given” scientific “permission” to take this process ultra slowly and purposefully calmed my body and spirit.
“…When the brain is making a decision, different neural networks compete with each other. Eventually, one of the networks becomes activated and produces the desired behavior. This happens through nerve cells in the spinal cord…that fire and send an impulse down their axon. [This] travels to the muscle and causes the action” (like “throwing the covers over your head or actually getting out of bed,”2 when you hear your alarm).
So, repeating the same decision (or thought) over time will wear a “desire line” in your brain, if you will, that immediately associates thoughts with their triggers; this, ultimately, causes an action.
If you want that action to change, “you either need to change the trigger OR break the association with that thought.“2 This will take some effort! Ask yourself, “What’s my trigger? Is it something around me (i.e., an alarm clock) or from inside me (i.e., beliefs)?”
“When we have a thought, it…creates an electromagnetic [electric and magnetic fields] and neuroendocrine [the interaction of the nervous and endocrine systems] signal that causes our organs and muscles to react, brain chemicals to respond, and our glands to secrete hormones like cortisol [“stress!”]. So, our thoughts cause our bodies to change. This is basic science…known as the fight or flight response. Positive, healthy thoughts cause positive, healthy changes in our bodies. Negative, toxic thoughts cause negative, toxic changes in our bodies.”3
We can consciously try to replace a negative thought with a positive one anytime we’re exposed to a trigger that would, typically, produce a negative response. This will take some consistent training, as does any new way of life.
For example, the pick-up lanes at my kids’ school are intentional. Those parked in the waiting lane on the right are to wait patiently for their kids. When their kids get in the car, they can carefully pull out to the left and pass the parked cars in the “continually flowing,” left lane. Unfortunately, more and more people are PARKING in the LEFT lane to wait for their kids, because they don’t want to wait ALL THE WAY at the back of the line! Yeah! You can imagine how this works out (or doesn’t) and is entirely inconsiderate (Sorry! Can you tell this annoys me a bit?)! Rather than exclaiming, “I just can’t believe people! They’re so rude!” which send signals from my brain to my body to accelerate my breathing and tighten my muscles, I’m working on focusing on my driving, making sure I’m being kind and considerate, and just looking forward to seeing my kid; this sends signals from my brain to my body to calm down.
All of this gives a renewed meaning for me to:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”Romans 12:2 NIV
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”Philippians 4:8 ESV
1 Drummond, Jessica. “Gentle Detox: Appropriately Pacing Detox for People with Chronic Illness.” Rebel Health Tribe, February 2023, https://rebelhealthtribe.com.
2 Cuncic, Arlin. “What Happens to Your Body When Your Brain Is Thinking?” Verywell Mind, 3 March 2023, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-happens-when-you-think-4688619.
3 Dr. Jamie. “Your Thoughts Change Your Biology–Why Your Mind Matters.” Dr. Jamie, Ph. D. https://drjamiephd.com/blog/your-thoughts-change-your-biology-why-your-mind-matters/. Accessed 1 March 2023.
4 Garland, Eric L. “Pain Processing in the Human Nervous System: A Selective Review of Nociceptive and Biobehavioral Pathways.” National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology, September 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3438523/.