Health and happiness. Something we all seek and struggle to find in some situations. Health is a commodity, an asset of sorts that most of us would likely spend a fortune in obtaining. The truth is that no matter how much you spend, how many medications you take, or how many supplements you incorporate into your daily regimen, there is often one missing factor for most of us. This one missing factor is the mind-body connection, and our mental factors. Most will dismiss this factor, but the connection between the mind and overall health is tremendous. Achieving this connection can make all of the difference in assisting you to acquire your ideal state of health, but also happiness on many levels.
Most of us, to be honest, are chasing our tails every day when it comes to our health. Maybe we have a specific health ailment or disease, or maybe we are just experiencing the side effects of a stressful life including fatigue, depression, anxiety, or insomnia. Then, as a result of these conditions, we seek guidance from our doctor and given a medication. In other cases, we may seek supplements to help us manage these health aspects. Although these approaches can be helpful, many of us are left wanting, and fail to achieve our health related goals.
Recently, I was at a local feed mill acquiring some grains for our horses. We live in a fairly rural area and it is not uncommon to have farmers of different age groups hanging around these mills playing cards, chatting, and just killing time. This visit for myself was no different and having a history of being a veterinarian in the area, I find this a familiar and comforting site as I know many of these individuals. As I was paying for our feed, there were two older cattle farmers sitting there chatting with one another. I tried not to listen in, but it was hard not to be a part of their conversation. In most cases, the talk is about cattle, farming, agriculture related topics, card games, or the weather. However, this case was different and these two gentleman were complaining to each other adamantly about their health problems, painful joints, and the number of medications that they were on, just to get out of bed each day. I just listened, paid my bill, and left the office.
Health. What are We Missing?
When it comes to health, we all have a choice. We can choose to be an active participant and pursuer of our health or we can choose to have our health dictated or created by another. Either way, it is a choice and one that we are making. For many, the level of participation ends with a visit to their doctor and acquisition of a prescription medication, which over time turns into two, then maybe three or four. We end up believing that the answer to our health ailments lies in that prescription and if we keep searching enough, one will eventually turn up. Did you know that over 20% of Americans are on an anti-depressant medication? Over 55% of Americans are at least on one pharmaceutical medication for a health condition and in the period of 1997-2016, prescription fill rate rose 85%, from 2.4 billion to 4.5 billion prescriptions per year. That is pretty astounding, when you think about it.
Health ailments are on the rise and this is obvious if you just take a look around you and observe people. It is also noted on news channels with reports about the rise in incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and cancer . . . to name just a few. We, as a general population, have health problems. There is no doubt in this statement, but instead of truly fixing the problem, most are resorting to pharmaceuticals or heavy supplement use as a solution. Medications and supplements do play a role and can assist many with their health goals, but more often than not, many are left wanting and are still seeking solutions. Not every patient responds to those medications or supplements. Where are they going wrong in their choices and can more be done?
When I was in clinical veterinary practice, I began to truly incorporate dietary measures and proper supplementation into our patent’s therapy programs. In many of these cases, I was managing dogs and honestly, many of their health ailments were reflective in their owners. No offense intended here, but truthfully speaking, if I had an overweight diabetic dog as a patient, more often than not, the owner was in the same boat. If I had a canine patient that was overweight, inactive, and had cardiovascular disease, the owner closely mirrored them. I am not sure why this happens and whether if ‘misery loves company’, or whether if the dog influenced the owner, or if the owner influenced the dog. I tend to believe it was the later of the three, and the lifestyle of the owner was reflective in the dog. The owner succumbs to illness as a result of that lifestyle, and soon the pet follows.
In either case, what was amazing to me as a veterinarian, was that many of these dog’s health conditions were easily managed, maybe using a medication, but in combination with lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, and proper supplementation. Upon re-evaluations, the dogs were inevitably improved in their health, which was good. The interesting thing to me was not that the dog responded, but more so that the owner didn’t connect the dots and apply the rationale to themselves. The owner, having diabetes themselves, would recognize the improvements in their dog, but then make a comment like, “I just wish you could do the same for me.” In reality, I did nothing more for their dog than they could do for themselves. The only real difference is that dog is not consumed mentally and therefore more accepting to treatments.
As a dog, they make no judgments, have no preconceived ideas in their head, are not focused on what they did yesterday, how the dog down the street feels about them, and they are not even worried about what they are going to do tomorrow. That is the influence of the mind or in their case, the lack of the influence of the mind.
The Power Within; Mind-Body Connection
The power of the mind is huge, and most of us do not realize this power and how it influences our daily lives, whether if that is good or bad. To demonstrate the power of the mind, all that you need to do is look at the placebo effect, which is defined as “A remarkable, proven phenomenon in which a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution — can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.” For many, this mind factor is often what is holding them back in acquiring their health or life goals, but they just don’t realize it. In reality, our choices and our focus on a daily basis, creates our outcomes. The ultimate question is what choices are we making and what is our focus?
Think about your daily activities and the emotions that are generated. In many cases, we don’t even realize the emotions at play within our own bodies, due to the fact that life has become routine and we are unaware. Emotions are a physiological response to a thought pattern. We are not responding to an event, but more so we are responding to our thought or interpretation of that event. The emotion then creates physical changes within our body, which also brings into the equation the factor of stress. The emotions can then alter our mind and our thought patterns. In some cases, the emotions are positive, while in others, the emotions are highly negative. Keep that negative pattern going long enough and you create a scratch in the vinyl record of life, a deep groove that you can get stuck into.
There are several ways of looking at the concept of the mind, whether if that be from a psychological, spiritual, or metaphysical perspective. It really doesn’t make a difference, as often all three share the same root philosophies. In the world of psychology, we have the conscious, subconscious, and the unconscious mind. In the world of spirituality, for the most part, we have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the world of metaphysics, there is the mind, body, and spirit. These are all indicative of a 3 part being, which is often reflective in other aspects of our lives, such as the three forms of matter which are gas, liquid, solid. It is interesting when you see how this unfolds in many aspects.
As science progresses, the connection between emotions or mood and overall health is becoming apparent. This isn’t just in the world of psychology, but also internal medicine. They are discovering that the mind or brain are tightly connected with digestive function, called the ‘brain-gut‘ axis. Actually, this is a two-way street, with the gut influencing the mind and the mind also influencing the gut. These are distinct connections between organ systems, with each having a tremendous influence on our overall health status. In some realms, when it comes to health, it is perceived that the only way to obtain true health and peace, is through a balance of the three entities; mind, body, and spirit. This is being confirmed in research.
The Subconscious Mind and Possibilities for Health
I tend to do a lot of reading and seeking of perceived truth in my life. Health is of course, one major area of focus for myself, but in seeking information on health acquisition, one is inevitably led to the influence of the mind and the mind-body connection. In a prior article, I touched base on the mind-body connection in cancer survival. The interaction of the mind on the body and health is huge, and is becoming a hot topic of discussion in today’s society. However, this connection and information regarding it is not new, but rather old information. In fact, in the book of Proverbs (23:7), it is stated “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he shall be.” Put aside spiritual and religious tones and really think about that statement.
No matter who you are, if you are living in today’s society, there are real challenges. These challenges not only create internal stress, but trigger emotions which can often be negative. These negative emotions, over time, can contribute to many of our current problems whether if that is in our health or otherwise. The negative emotions can stem back to our personal life, our job, or other factors that for some reason we are just not too happy about. This negative pattern often goes unrecognized by ourselves and can create a lifetime of unconscious negative thinking.
There are many older texts, dating back to the early 1900’s, regarding the power of the mind and the influence on health. In one of those texts, they look at the conscious and subconscious mind as a captain of a ship and a ship-hand in the engine room. The captain (conscious mind) shouts out the orders and the ship-hand (subconscious mind) in the engine room follows the orders. The subconscious mind is actually one of the biggest players in our health and controls many bodily functions, maintaining balance internally. The subconscious mind doesn’t question the conscious mind, but only follows orders, per se. If the conscious mind is in a negative state, the subconscious mind follows suit, which then can impact our health. This includes digestion, mind patterns, cardiovascular health, immune health, energy, and even pain tolerance.
Many of these older texts raise case examples of ‘spontaneous healing’ that have occurred in patients for no explainable reason, other than an altered thought pattern. In some past studies on cancer, it is interesting to note that when interviewed, a large percentage of cancer patients noted a major emotional event in their life within ten years of their diagnosis. In the world of Chinese medicine, almost every disease pattern is connected tightly with emotions, which then alters energy or Qi pathways in the body. In more recent papers, hypnotism and suggestion have produced some profound benefits to cancer patients, helping to reduce side effects from treatment and even produce extended longevity for some.
Our Mind and Emotions; It is Up To Us.
The concept of the mind-body connection is becoming a well known phenomenon and in many cases, it is an entity that just cannot be explained. As physicians and veterinarians, the influence of the mind on health is real, but we have not been able to quantify or control it, like we want to. In the world of human medicine, the phenomenon is readily apparent in the ‘broken-heart syndrome’, which is also recognized in animals that lose close mates.
When it comes to our health, there are three intertwined factors being the mind, body, and spirit. In many cases of disease, we take all of the right approaches to support the body in the use of medications, supplements, and diet. However, we often forget about the other two segments and dismiss at times how deeply they are intertwined.
Our minds are powerful influences on health! Don’t dismiss that concept. The one problem is that the ability to influence the mind or the spirit is entirely up to us, as an individual. Others can help and guide, but finding the solution and implementing it is a solo job. The good news is that each of us can do it, but it takes practice, creating a new mindset each and every day.
Tomorrow’s challenge! Start the day with a new outlook on life and a new mindset. It takes 21 days to establish a new habit or pattern! There is nothing to lose but so much to gain!
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN