Thinking differently about your health

This blog, by Assistant District Manager, Melvyn Howe, appeared in the “This is” series.

model used for illustrative purposes only
© GLOW IMAGES

Once upon a time getting sick meant visiting the doctor, reaching for a bottle of aspirin or simply toughing it out.

But attitudes are changing as studies around the world appear to show links between thinking and health.

It has long been recognised that stress, for example, affects the body and appears to be responsible for a whole range of ailments – both physical and mental.

However, research also suggests gratitude, forgiveness, humour, prayer etc., have a beneficial effect on our well-being.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as evidence points to a growing number of people wanting more than just drug-based treatment, complementary and alternative techniques appear to be increasing in popularity.

Penny Brohn Cancer Care, which is planning to expand well beyond its Bristol base later this year, is a case in point. While working as a “natural partner to mainstream medical treatment”, it offers “relaxation, meditation, creative pursuits and massage to provide “an immediate way to reduce stress levels which help to strengthen the body’s immune system”.

Its’ website says: “Increasingly evidence shows that changes in our thoughts, emotions and beliefs can bring about changes in our physical health and well-being.”

In a similar vein recently published research at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University found chronic psychological stress was “associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response”.

Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at the University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said the study provided “an explanation of how stress can promote disease”.

Another study, featured in the Daily Telegraph, points to thought playing a major and possibly pivotal role in how much pain an individual experiences – at least as far as back pain is concerned.

It compared two groups of patients suffering from this particular type of discomfort, which costs the UK economy an estimated £10 billion a year.

One group underwent psychological counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy and later reported pain and disability levels falling “twice as much” as the other group which received “standard treatment”.

“Researchers believe that the counselling…works because if you can help people to change their thoughts, it will help them to change the way they feel,” said the paper.

Counselling requires a willingness to change thought by the person who needs help in order to be effective.

My experience over several decades has shown me such a willingness is a powerful tool to recover and maintain health. In my own case I have not had to resort to counsellors but have sought a spiritual clarity through prayer.

I have regularly found that improving the way I think about myself through this spiritual approach released me from stress and resulted in noticeable health benefits including freedom from disabling headaches and a healing of irritable bowel syndrome.

As evidence increasingly shows consciousness playing a central role in our well-being, perhaps it will become second nature for people to look to thought as central to their health.

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Author:Tony Lobl

I write on spirituality and health for a diversity of online media outlets, from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I have been published by the Independent, the Washington Post, the Guardian, E-Hospice, MindBodyGreen and The Christian Science Monitor and I post regularly on the Huffington Post UK and BuzzFeed. In addition to writing and broadcast appearances I enjoy engaging with journalists, academics, health professionals and government officials about the possibilities for improving health outcomes through a greater emphasis on spirituality in healthcare and social care. I've also greatly valued the many opportunities I have had to travel globally for my church and to meet people around the world. My wife Jenny and I spent 10 years in Boston, USA, before returning to London in 2002, to take on a role as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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One Comment on “Thinking differently about your health”

  1. valneedham
    January 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    Thanks for this, Melvyn and Tony. I’ve forwarded it to the Devon and Cornwall mailing groups as they will be very pleased to read it. Val

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