Change Your Mindset—You May Improve Your Health!

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Have you considered how our mind, beliefs and mindset about wellness can affect our health and healing? Scientists have shown that mindset is intricately linked with health outcomes. That is not to say we can simply “think” ourselves better from a major health crisis, nor that it’s our own fault when we face a devastating diagnosis, but it is worth considering what we do know about the role of mindset.

Medical journals have published studies on the importance of mindset to improve treatment effectiveness and on the understanding that patient outcomes are related to mindset and social context. These reports have gained a lot of attention from podcast hosts.

The language used by doctors when they talk about treatments, and our own belief system about healing when we’re in the patient’s chair, are both important. For example, when a medical provider says that the treatment will be effective, it can change our experience (for the better) when using the medication.

The “placebo effect” shows how much a person’s belief in how effective the treatment will be can change outcomes. For example, a control group in a clinical trial experienced significant health changes—and they weren’t taking the active medication. This also works in the opposite way: Research has shown when people are told that something will be painful, they report a stronger pain sensation.

If someone has a family history of high blood pressure, it may make them less likely to change their lifestyle or seek treatment because their belief may be that there’s nothing they can do about a genetic health risk. This type of fixed mindset—believing that they are destined to have a disease—can be harmful to health outcomes. The goal—for the medical team and the patient—is to have a growth mindset and to focus on the fact that things are indeed changeable.

There is a growing body of evidence that our mindset plays a role in health, wellness and healing. Scientists are actively researching the role of clinician communication, patient mindset and the role of social context on health outcomes. Our mindset about our health as a part of our overall wellness plan is worth paying attention to.

Erica A. Wehrwein, PhD, is an associate professor of physiology at Michigan State University.  Her research interests are on the connection between breathing and the nervous system, interactions of mindset and personality on physiological health outcomes and neural control of blood pressure.

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