Sunday, 20 April 2014

Mind and Body: T2 article dated 20th April 2014

Google 'pseudocyesis'. Commonly known as false pregnancy, it is a fascinating condition.
Women who intensely desire to be mothers but are unable to conceive may develop this condition, where their mind tricks their physical body into believing that they are pregnant. Physiologically, the body mimics the symptoms of pregnancy, such as distension of abdomen, interruption of the menstrual period, changes in the breasts, changes in the cervix, morning sickness and weight gain.
This condition was pretty common before pregnancy tests and ultrasonography came into vogue, and even seasoned obstetricians would sometimes fail to catch the ' con'. Just think about it — if our mind can conjure something as complex as pregnancy and trick our body to initiate the multi- level chemical changes to produce these symptoms, do we really understand how powerful our mind is? And how profoundly it affects, not only our thoughts, behaviour and choices, but also our body? A man wanted to bring his 63- year- old father to us for therapy. At that time, a display board at the place where we practiced read, ' We care for your mental well-being'. The father refused to walk in and left shouting at his son, 'I am not mental'. There is too much fear and taboo attached to
issues related to 'mental health'. Unfortunately, we ignore our emotions and disregard our mental state as having very little or no effect on us.
WHO defines health as 'a state of complete physical, mental, and social well- being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'. We all know that when we are happy we feel physically charged up and healthy, and when we are sad we feel low and down. Our body is constantly responding to our mind. There are more and more researches showing that diseases have a mental- emotional component. This has led to a new branch of medicine called Mind Body Medicine, which uses the power of thoughts and emotions to influence physical health.
All the commonly heard diseases, like diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis, are stress- related. The factor causing or aggravating them is long- standing mental and emotional stress. New studies show that contrary to popular belief, most allergies and chronic pain, especially lower back pain, are caused or aggravated by psychological factors. Medication combined with mind- body techniques has shown better results in treatment than just medication alone.
These techniques encourage relaxation, improve coping skills, reduce tension and pain, and in turn lessen the need for medication in various diseases like high- blood pressure,
pressure, coronary heart disease, asthma, cancer, obesity, pain and nausea/ vomiting related to chemotherapy, insomnia, diabetes, stomach and intestinal problems ( including indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhoea, ulcerative colitis, heartburn, and Crohn's disease), fibromyalgia, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, depression and irritability.
In 1989, a clinical study by David Spiegel, MD, at Stanford University School of Medicine demonstrated the power of emotional support to heal. Of 86 women with late- stage breast cancer, half received standard medical care while the other half received standard care plus weekly emotional support sessions. In these sessions, the women were able to share both their grief and their triumphs. Spiegel discovered that the women who participated in the social support group lived twice as long as the women who did not.
Simple relaxation techniques, practice of gratitude and compassion, practice of ancient traditions like yoga, meditation and t'ai- chi which help calm the mind, are gaining more and more interest from research scholars from prestigious medical schools in pursuit of health and happiness.
Dr Dean Ornish's work has proved that comprehensive lifestyle changes along with yoga, meditation and a lowfat diet can actually reverse the changes in the artery in coronary heart disease patients, traditionally considered irreversible. Clinical trials of Dr Ornish's work show better results than the more mainstream treatment modalities like bypass surgery and angioplasty. His current research shows that a relaxed and stress- free lifestyle can ' turn on' disease- preventing genes and ' turn off' disease- causing genes in the human body.
Our mind can be a wonderful ally or a vicious foe, depending on how we treat it. If we want to stay healthy and find happiness, we need to gather courage to look within to be aware of and acknowledge our emotions.
Only then will we be able to befriend our mind. That's what we can try to achieve. At the least we can try.

Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches Share your problems with them at 
dr.sangbarta@ gmail. com

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