This week I’ve been thinking about healing, specifically how we can help our bodies and minds to heal faster. There’s such a lot of fascinating research out there – I hope you find it as intriguing as I do.
Like all living things, our bodies are programmed to heal and repair all but the most serious injuries. Since improving my diet I succumb to fewer infections, symptoms are milder and recovery faster than before. But there’s more to effective healing that a great diet. If mind and body operate as one, then it follows that whatever increases resilience, maintains health and speeds recovery should work on both. Recent research bears this out. It’s now clear that thoughts and beliefs influence our physical bodies, while physical factors such as diet affect our mental and emotional state.
A critical part of healing is the belief that our body can do the job. Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief, Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert and You are the Placebo by Joe Dispenza are eye-opening reads. The three scientists explain how changing our perceptions and beliefs can have a huge impact on health by moderating chemical pathways linking our thoughts to our physiology.
Dispenza’s book contains some mind-boggling case-histories, in which people’s beliefs can become a matter of life or death. Cancer patients whose tumours shrank in response to drugs that were later found to be inactive; arthritis sufferers who improved whether they received real or sham surgery. And Dr Joe himself, whose recovery from paralysis confounded medics. Dispenza suggests that we can be our own placebo, dispense with sugar pills or saline injections and purposefully harness our body’s ability to heal. He recommends a process of meditation and visualisation, as described in his books and TED talks. But there are other simple, practical ways in which any of us can enhance our own healing and help others do the same.
Here are my 7 tips for a faster recovery from what ails you.
1) Write expressively or keep a journal
Daily journaling can improve health and well-being, assist recovery from trauma, improve immunity and even speed up healing after surgery (1). Several clinical trials have also shown that wounds heal faster in those who write expressively about upsetting events 2). This is something anyone with pen and paper can do in just 10 minutes a day. And you never know, it might inspire you to finally start that novel!
2) Take part in creative pursuits
Creative pursuits other than writing can also promote healing of mind and body (3). Maybe when we lose ourselves in art, writing, music or dance – achieving a state of flow – we subconsciously tap into the natural healing mechanisms. If the pursuit involves movement, we’re giving our bodies a dose of healthy exercise too. So, if you have a creative hobby that you’ve abandoned as life has got busier, find a way to get back to it. The benefits could be more far-reaching then you imagine!
3) Try affirmations
There’s increasing evidence that positive thoughts and emotions can impact our health and capacity to heal. A practical way to take your attitude up a gear is with affirmations. Repeating a positive mantra, aloud, taps into your subconscious and plants seeds of positive thought. It can be done alongside other activities, and doesn’t need to take up much precious time. Stick with it for a few weeks and notice how your feelings and behaviour change. This article will give you inspiration in designing your affirmations: 35 Affirmations That Will Change your Life
There’s more than a grain of truth in the saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’. A well-documented example is the US journalist Norman Cousins. In constant pain and expected to die within months after the onset of the degenerative disease ankylosing spondylitis, Norman was determined not to succumb. Over a period of weeks, he took high doses of vitamin C while exposing himself to a continuous stream of humorous films. He claimed that 10 minutes of belly laughter would give him two hours of pain-free sleep and in six months was back on his feet. Within two years Norman was able to return to his demanding job, baffling scientists.
We now know that the act of laughing has a beneficial effect on the immune system, causes release of endorphins and boosts our mood. Think about how often you laugh aloud these days – could it be more? Try prescribing a daily dose – it’s free ?
5) Look to your diet and lifestyle
Exercise and a diet based on whole foods are crucial for good health and the ability to heal. Our bodies work best when they’re active, and feeding ourselves the correct fuel aids the natural healing process. There’s fascinating research into specific links between diet and healing, from the beneficial effects of high protein on wound healing (4) to how fasting can help regenerate a diabetic pancreas (5). If you have a specific ailment it’s worth doing some research. A good diet also supports the immune system and has a positive impact on symptoms of depression, as I discussed a couple of weeks ago – Depressed? Let Food Be Thy Medicine.
Some of the newest research in this area focuses on the gut biome – the 100 trillion microbes we carry inside us. These friendly passengers produce chemicals that play a big part in processes such as healing, metabolism and immune function. To maintain a healthy biome, make sure to eat a variety of whole, natural foods including occasional fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut or kimchi (6).
6 Talk about it
It’s true that talking therapies can be useful for healing emotional damage, and probably physical too. There are a huge number of techniques, and different therapies work best for different issues or personalities. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be effective for anxiety, but may not be so good at treating depression. It’s also been shown that positive results often owe more to the rapport between therapist and client than the actual technique employed. If you’re looking for a therapist, take some time to research different techniques and practitioners, and opt for ones you feel comfortable with.
Depending on your issue, it might be that the perfect person to talk to is not a professional at all. A friend or relative could provide a ‘listening ear’, reflecting your thoughts and feelings, giving insight on the path back to health. It’s worth remembering that to heal both mind and body, focus should be on the healing rather than the problem. Personally, I’d avoid talking therapies that involve repeatedly revisiting past traumas.
7) Learn to accept your illness, injury or trauma
Acceptance may seem counter-productive when talking about healing, but I believe it can be a vital first step. Those with a life-changing illness or injury can choose to fight every inch of the way. That’s fine so long as it doesn’t make them feel worse than before. Or they can choose to first accept their current state with its limitations, while believing that recovery is a realistic goal. Even without a cure, physical illness becomes more bearable when the mind is healthy and accepting. So, get some information about what ails you, accept the reality, then move forward.
It might even be possible to find something positive about your current state, while planning your path to recovery. Discovering the book How Sadness Survived by Paul Keedwell several years ago played a huge role in changing my attitude. I learned how depression may have evolved and the advantages it can confer on individuals and societies. This helped me accept a tendency towards depression as part of me; the flip side of creativity and capacity for great joy. Part of the healing process was to accept and even embrace my ‘problem’.
I hope you’ve got value from my 7 tips for healing and I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Please subscribe too, so I can let you know about new posts.