The Mind-Body Connection
Psychoneuroimmunology is a branch of medicine that deals with the relationship between emotional states (like stress and depression), the nervous system and immune function. There is evidence that shows that the mind-body connection influences health and disease, and medicine has studied this relationship through a phenomenon called the placebo effect.
The placebo effect, or taking a dummy pill containing no medication, creates an expectation of healing so powerful that symptoms are sometimes actually alleviated. In the same manner, some sham surgery has been proven to be as effective as or more so than real surgery. The effect of the placebo is not just that it mimics the medication or the surgical intervention, but that the patient believes it is real. In this way, the mind induces changes in the brain that are communicated to the body, which in turn induces its own healing molecules, either hormonal or immunological.
For the last decade, science has provided evidence of the relationship and interplay between biological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease. There is solid evidence of the mind-body interactions between the central nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. This interrelationship between behavior and immunity influences our mind and the body’s health.
Stress has been associated with increased susceptibility to both infectious disease and inflammatory disease. Severe psychological stressors like partner bereavement have shown a marked decline in cellular immune response, which is key in protecting us against cancer and a wide range of infections. When smoking and/or alcohol dependence are added to a depressive state, the immune system’s decline is accentuated further.
When an individual is presented with a painful emotional situation, natural opioid like endorphins are produced by the body to cope with that emotional state. Using CT scanning, the same regions of the brain that light up when we experience physical pain also light up when we experience emotional pain. When the focus of the painful experience is prolonged, as in the case of depression, natural endorphins might not be enough to deal with the emotional pain. In some individuals, medicines like hydrocodone and morphine that are used to treat physical pain states are used improperly to try and help deal with an emotional painful state, giving rise to addiction.
Prolonged stress, depression and anxiety, all of which are clearly states of the mind, influence the balance of the endocrine and cytokine systems, and this influences how our organs and immune cells function, which in turn increases the risk of developing autoimmune diseases, susceptibility to infections, inflammation, allergies and potentially, certain cancers. Research has shown that the opposite is also true; that meditation, happiness, empathy and love are states that favor both our endocrine and immune systems.
Hypnotherapy has been used to unconsciously create these positive states by developing helpful new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviors and feelings.