Have you ever had one of those days where stress got the best of you, causing your shoulders to creep toward your ears and your neck to tighten? By the time you made it home you could feel the whole day written into your muscles. Maybe you even had a headache to end the day with. Some version of this has happened to almost everyone; the mind is a powerful tool and emotions can change what happens in our physical body.
In fact, from my clinical experience as a chiropractor, outside of a physical or repetitive injury, emotion is the biggest reason why healthy, well aligned people have pain. Emotional distress produces body posture changes, muscular changes, chemical and even neurological changes that cause very real discomfort in the body. Emotion is so vitally important that we check all of our patients for any underlying stress state with a Heart Rate Variability (HRV) scan. We find that without addressing stress our patients will take significantly longer to heal, will have more pain, and are more likely to sustain further injury.
Whether our physical pain started with an emotion or started with something more obvious like an accident or repetitive stress injury, we can use what we know about emotion to powerfully change the way our body feels. As Bruce Lipton teaches us in his book, Biology of Belief, we cannot be in both stress mode and healing mode at the same time. An environment of stress in our body creates chemical and neurological changes that effectively shut down the body’s incredibly powerful ability to heal. And, on top of that, stress chemicals can be physically stored in our body’s tissues, creating an ongoing stress state and chronic physical symptoms.
Conversely, when we choose thoughts that calm us and bring us into a relaxed state our body can do amazing healing work; our body is designed to heal. BJ Palmer, one the forefathers of chiropractic in the US, is famous for saying that, “Nature needs no help, just no interference.” BJ’s statement is about the body’s inborn ability to heal that happens automatically when we remove any interferences that is preventing this natural healing state. One major interference to healing is right between our ears, the emotional state of our mind.
So how do we change the mind? What can we actually do to create a healing environment in our mind?
One of the most researched aspects of changing both our brain and our biology is gratitude. In one study, patients with a neuromuscular disease were assigned either a gratitude-outlook or a neutral-outlook to practice each day. The researchers noted that gratitude heightened well-being in their moods, coping behaviors, health behaviors, and even physical symptoms.
In another study, researchers examined the relationship between gratitude and self-rated physical health. They concluded that, “Dispositional gratitude correlated positively with self-reported physical health, and this link was mediated by psychological health, healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns.” So, in other words, the participants who practice gratitude reported better physical health!
Is it any surprise that gratitude is so profound? Different forms of the word gratitude, thankfulness, or thanksgiving are used in the Bible hundreds of times! In fact, we’re reminded to, “Give thanks to the God of heaven, His love endures forever.” Gratitude is incredibly powerful in our lives and has been instructed and recognized for thousands of years.