Did you know your thoughts can directly influence how your body feels, how other people treat you and how happy you are? Your mind can be a powerful tool to help you through any challenge in life, especially cancer treatment. Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed., CEAP, RYT, CHC, a facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares more about intentionally choosing your thoughts.
Reality versus imagination
"Your mind does not know the difference between something real and something vividly imagined," says Buttimer. "When you imagine a frightening situation, your mind and body respond as if you are going through it in real life."
The mind-body connection
Your thoughts can powerfully influence your body.
For example, if you visualize an argument with your spouse, your body may tense up, your heart may race and you may feel upset afterward, even though the argument did not actually happen. Similarly, if you visualize yourself in a relaxing place you love, such as the beach or the mountains, you may find your body relaxing and you may feel more peaceful.
As further proof of the mind-body connection, consider the placebo effect noted in medical studies. Many researchers have found that participants who were given a "sugar pill" as a placebo instead of the actual medication experienced similar positive results as the group who received the medication.
The power of choosing positive thoughts
"If you focus on self-love and self-care, choose positive thoughts and a positive attitude, your body will respond intuitively," says Buttimer. "But if you are focused on fear or the what-ifs in life, your body will respond with stress and inflammation."
If you find yourself having negative thoughts, it is important to steer your mind away from them and think about something positive, such as something for which you are grateful.
"Whatever you focus on will get bigger and bigger in your mind, and your current circumstances will respond to that," he says.
For example, if you fear surgery and meditate on (consistently think about) how it could go poorly, your body will respond with tension, inflammation, and stress, which can affect your body's ability to heal.
Our thoughts can affect our circumstances
Buttimer uses this example to illustrate how your thoughts can affect your circumstances and how others respond to you:
Suppose you are having a bad day and feel like no one cares about you. The more you think these negative thoughts, the more your body and mind will respond—likely with slumped shoulders, a sour expression, and a negative attitude.
Then, when you are around other people, they will see your body language and hear your tone, and may respond unenthusiastically. Then you experience a self-fulfilling prophecy and believe that no one likes you, when really they were responding to your body language and attitude.
Three ways to harness the power of your mind
Buttimer suggests these strategies to harness the power of your thoughts:
Mindfully observe your thoughts. Be aware. You do not always have to be in a good mood, just be aware when you are feeling sad or anxious, and think about ways you might shift your focus.
Practice guided imagery to help your mind visualize positive situations and outcomes.
Practice mindfulness meditation to learn how to bring awareness to your current thoughts.
Of course, you cannot entirely control your health outcomes or relationships with your thoughts, but choosing positive, loving thoughts can lead to a better attitude, more joy and less stress, which is great for your overall mental and physical well-being.
Read more about mental health and well-being.