How can the nurturing care and positive belief of a health care provider result in better health of the patient? It all goes back to the illness-inducing stress response and the self-repair facilitating relaxation response.
When a patient who imbues the physician with positive meaning feels tended, trusting, reassured, and nurtured, the stress response is aborted. The relaxation response is induced. The patient starts to get better right away.
Just imagine you were diagnosed with cancer. The minute you hear the word cancer, your fight-or-flight stress responses go crazy. The adrenal gland pumps out cortisol. The sympathetic nervous system jumps to attention. The word cancer is interpreted by the mind as a life-threatening threat, even though the threat of death isn’t usually imminent at the time of diagnosis. In such a state of physiological stress, the body is poorly equipped to fight cancer. It’s too busy preparing to fight and flee. No point rallying the immune system to fight cancer cells when the brain leads you to believe your life is at stake.
Then in walks the oncologist, who is kind, nurturing, and reassuring. He holds your hand, hugs you when you cry, and assures you that he has cared for thousands of people with just such a cancer and most of them have done well. With calm words and gentle presence, the oncologist explains that no matter what happens, you will never be alone, that he will be right there by your side, doing everything in his power to help.
A treatment plan is made, and he gives you a phone number you can
call if you think of any more questions. He offers you another hug or gentle pat on the back. Even though you’re facing a big surgery and months of chemotherapy, you feel better already.
Why? Because the mind is soothed. The fear is alleviated. The stress response is turned off. The body relaxes. The doctor convinced your brain that all will be well, or at least everything will be done to try to assure that it will be.
In such a relaxed state, the body can get busy doing what it does best – making efforts to heal itself.
And this is a wonderful example of the mind-body connection.
“If you think you can… or think you can’t… either way you’re right.”