A few years ago I gave a 5-minute presentation to a group of more than 60 colleagues and fellow practitioners in the field of Integrative Medicine. This very question, ‘Do Thoughts Matter?’ formulated the basis of my discussion. I’d like to distill some of what I shared that day as it is simple yet has the potential to have significant impact on the quality of each of our lives.
How many thoughts do we have?
Do you know how many thoughts we have on average on a daily basis? It has been estimated by the National Science Foundation that we have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. That’s a staggering amount. Interestingly, 95% of these thoughts are repetitive, meaning the same thoughts as the day before.
What’s even more remarkable is that 80% of these thoughts are negative. As humans we are hardwired to worry, this is part of our primal brains protecting us from threats to our own survival; so our thoughts and natural instinct are fear based. The degree of negative thinking becomes critical when we think about the potential influence of the mind-body connection to health.
What is the Placebo Effect?
The idea of thinking is real medicine. This is evidenced by the placebo effect. When we give a subject a “sugar pill” in the place of a prescription drug, an average of 30% of individuals will show a positive response. What causes the response is not the physical substance itself but rather the activity of the mind-body connection.
Expectations can be powerful. If you think you’ve been given a drug that will make you better, often that is enough to make you better. So the question becomes can we trigger our own natural healing mechanisms thereby creating wellbeing by the way we think? It seems possible and a plausible idea to explore.
An Interesting Study on Mind-Body Connection
Through my research, I came across the work of two renowned neuroscientists, Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman. Their research shows that a single word may have the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate our physical and emotional stress.
Using functional MRI imaging they showed that by holding a positive word in the mind, such as peace or love, can stimulate frontal lobe activity. This is the part of our brain that activates the motivational centers and moves us into action. The longer we concentrate on positive words, the more we begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobes start to change, which alters our perception of both others and ourselves.
On the contrary, hostile language can disrupt specific genes that are key in the production of chemicals that protect us from stress. A single negative word can increase activity in our amygdala, the part of the brain that houses our survival instinct, the fight or flight response. When this area is activated dozens of stress producing hormones and neurotransmitters are released. This interrupts the way the brain regulates happiness and longevity. Angry words send messages of alarm through the brain and compromise our logic and reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.
So different thoughts activate different parts of the brain. It is that simple and clear.
Why do thoughts matter?
The aim is not to eliminate all our negative thinking, but to appreciate the potential our thoughts have. Each thought we give attention to sends communication to a very specific part of the brain. This triggers a cascade of chemicals that either support or weaken our innate healing mechanisms. The type of response is dependent on the quality of the thought, which is both fascinating and quite powerful.
What we tell ourselves on a regular basis matters. It can determine whether you take the next step towards your dream and may even determine the extent to which you experience joy in life. If we excel at all the other important lifestyle factors contributing to health such as nutrition, sleep, hydration, and movement for example yet exclude the power of thoughts, it seems we may be missing an important piece to our overall wellbeing.
So explore the power of your own thinking. Start by simply becoming aware of the thoughts that tend to dominate your mind without judgment or praise. Then consciously choose thoughts that serve, inspire, or uplift and see what beneficial changes happen in your life.
An example could be noticing yourself replaying a frustrating situation in your mind. Notice if you are judging or criticizing the actions taken or not taken. Then pause for a moment and choose a different thought. Perhaps choose a thought towards something you appreciate or acknowledge a step already taken. Being able to accomplish this within the actual situation that brought the discomfort may be even more helpful.
Experiment with how thoughts impact each moment you experience. It is the series of all these moments that ultimately become our lifetime. In a world where so much seemingly is out of our control, remember the thoughts we allow on daily basis are within our own grasp. What thoughts will you choose?
Interested in learning more ways in which the mind body connection can impact your health? Please contact the office at 813-644-9384 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to schedule an appointment. Reshma Patel, M.D. is Board certified in both Internal Medicine and Integrative Medicine practicing in the Tampa Bay area in Florida. She is passionate about using nutrition, mind-body approaches and lifestyle choices to help heal the body.
LIVE. LOVE. INSPIRE.