How Does Mind Medicine Work?

Mind medicine researchers have found that stress hormones are associated with particular unhealthy emotions. These hormones affect systems and organs throughout the body. For example, stress related to hostility and anxiety can result in disruptions in heart and immune function. Similarly, depression and distress may diminish the body’s natural capacity to heal. In contrast, emotional expression that encourages openness and active coping with problems helps stabilize the immune system.

Certain emotions have been linked to disease. So for example, if you tend to be angry or hostile you may be increasing your risk for coronary heart disease, obesity (particularly having excess fat around the waist), insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), and abnormal cholesterol (specifically, high triglycerides and low HDL the good kind of cholesterol).

Generally, research shows that being stressed and having negative emotions is unhealthy. One study found that unconsciously being defensive or stifling feelings resulted in serious medical consequences, such as high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also associated with feelings of hopelessness. How a person processes emotions also affects how long he or she may survive a chronic illness.

The goal of mind/body techniques is to activate the relaxation response and reduce the stress response. When you are relaxed, the levels of hormones related to stress are reduced and your immune system is more efficient. High levels of stress hormones circulating in the body may actually prove to increase one’s susceptibility to infection as well.

Mind Medicine and Spirituality

Many researchers have been studying how spiritual beliefs, attitudes, and practices influence health. In a recent study on people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), for example, people who had faith in God, compassion toward others, a sense of inner peace, and were religious had a better chance of surviving for a long time with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) than those who did not have such faith or practices. Research suggests that qualities like faith, hope, and forgiveness and the use of social support and prayer have a noticeable effect on health and healing.<