For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…—Proverbs 23:7
For many who are diagnosed with an illness, the first response—whether they realize they’re doing it or not—is to embrace the label of that illness and pursue it, aligning it with their identity. For many, this means channeling resources into finding treatment or even a cure, and for others, it can even involve feeling victimized by the implications of the condition.
To use a simple example, a woman told that she has strep throat will likely be prescribed an antibiotic. It’s highly likely that the very next stop she makes, after seeing her doctor, will be at the pharmacy for her medicine. She then puts upcoming activities or appointments on hold until her health has improved enough to resume daily life. Temporarily, that illness takes over her time, resources, and focus. A more serious version of this takes place when, for example, a man learns he has cancer. Usually, he will immediately begin chemotherapy or another treatment regimen mapped out by the physician. Somewhere between these two extremes another man, who is diagnosed with a manageable but chronic illness he will have to deal with for the rest of his life. For him, the coming days, months, and even years or decades can be spent marked by his search for relief. If he, like the woman diagnosed with strep throat, places other activities or engagements on hold until his good health returns before resuming normality, the result could be that his life will slowly be taken over by his illness, with anything that brings joy postponed until he feels good again. Sadly, for those with long-term or chronic illnesses, people may find themselves, years later, having completely given up the things they once only meant to place on hold, and that, while they were pursuing wellness, their quality of life dropped significantly as their sickness took over.
When we receive a name for an ailment, we often fuse that name into our own identity: I “have fibromyalgia” or I “am diabetic.” Often, because we unquestioningly accept what experts (doctors, physicians, surgeons, or other medical staff) say, there is a sad acceptance of diagnoses we allow to invade our expectations of future quality of life. Well-meaning medical professionals, in an attempt to provide information, may even tell us what to expect moving forward. This can be both good and bad for those who have become ill.
For example, in my (Joe’s) situation, when I was initially diagnosed with diverticulitis (a painful infection found within polyps that develop in the lining of the intestine) years ago. That doctor told me that when a third flare-up occurred, it would be time to have a surgery to remove part of my colon. Again, I asked him what caused the illness and if anything could be done to prevent its escalation. His response was that the condition was probably genetic and that I could take fiber to potentially buy some time. From that moment on, over the next six years, each eruption I endured became a check-off event on a terrible countdown. Sure enough, by the time I experienced the third episode, a surgeon did deem me to be a strong candidate for colon surgery to remove sixteen inches of my large intestine.
What if that first doctor had focused on positive steps I could have taken to prevent further episodes rather than telling me of impending outbreaks and surgeries? Of course, his response was partially due to the disconnect between the medical realm of health and wellness and the natural/nutritional angle, which does address such concepts. But my point is, until then, I had never been told that I had a disease or ailment that couldn’t be cured. The information I got in that moment slanted toward the negative future I had to look forward to and offered me no power or pathway for proactive action. It was like being told to wait for further victimization. The verdict of my “needing surgery someday,” handed to me by someone I perceived to have authority, contributed to why I had little faith at first that natural options could be helpful.
If, instead, I had been given positive tools for redirecting my health at such early stages in my illness, it’s likely I never even would have needed the procedure. With the right natural intervention early on, it’s probable that I wouldn’t have suffered subsequent illness at all. Now, allow me to be abundantly clear: I’m not saying that everyone who receives a diagnosis can free themselves of all successive disease just by being proactive. Such a statement would be an insult to those who are suffering from devastating or terminal medical conditions. I am trying to say that many diseases stem from imbalances that, if handled appropriately early on, likely wouldn’t escalate to their advanced stages.
When we’re told to expect certain negative outcomes rather than how to prevent them, we’re disempowered in the same moment that we’re diagnosed, and the sad result is acceptance. We embrace our illness and its fusion with our identity.
Diagnosis: A Road Map, Not a Blueprint
When we look at a road map, we take an aerial view of where we are in relationship to our destination. We can assess a variety of routes that connect the two points. If one road is closed, charges expensive tolls, or is even just too long and winding, we can alter our route, with the target always in sight. When using blueprints, however, we have no such liberty. The builder must follow the plans directly, or the result could manifest in such nonsensical features as a bathtub in the middle of a living room floor or a toilet mounted to a wall.
When considering treatment for an illness, it’s important to bear in mind that while the process could be compared to looking at a road map, likening it to a blueprint could be discouraging and defeating. For example, one person may find that the methods effective for him or her aren’t the same as those highly recommended by others who have been through it. Similarly, treatments some people consider ineffective may be greatly successful for others. We must learn to evaluate the success of a treatment gradually, with an eye on overall progress. It is crucial not to place all of our faith in an unwavering regimen merely because it has been mandated as the “best” by someone else.
It’s also important to remember that we are holistic beings—we’re more than ones who do or do not have an illness. A medical diagnosis is a label of coordinated data (such as information about our symptoms, lab results, etc.) that is analyzed by a physician. The diagnosis is given to us as a road map in order to help us understand the big picture of our body’s struggle. From this, we can determine the general direction we need to be moving. Some people will have more options than others at this phase. For example, diabetes is related to the body’s pancreatic responses to sugar and the breakdown of accurate insulin disbursement that takes place as a response. Therefore, a person diagnosed with diabetes doesn’t not need to say “I am diabetic” as though it’s a life-long sentence, nor is that person without options for how to proceed. Rather than feeling trapped, the individual could instead say, “I need to pinpoint the cause of this malfunction and discover how to reteach my body’s system.” Thus, he or she can try to find the sugar-imbalance culprit (which, for many, is found in diet) and then try to correct the issue. For others (potentially those with type 1 diabetes), the options may be fewer. For those who choose to try to adjust their diet before they turn to pharmaceuticals, this doesn’t mean that with the correct nutrition they’ll never have an insulin imbalance again, but it could mean that they can live without being consumed with worry over “being a diabetic.”
Many times, this road map is marked with symptoms and, as mentioned before, other physiological data. As mentioned previously, the diagnosis is almost never an actual blueprint that’s set in stone or unchangeable. Usually, it’s just a starting point. It’s helpful to view it as a map for how to manage the dysfunction, using available knowledge as a compass for traveling in the right direction and considering the many roads and routes along the way as individualized opportunities for finding wellness. The diagnosis should never be taken personally or embraced as part of our identity. (Easier said than done, we know!) We should take the information as merely that, while rejecting the stigma that the illness brings with it.
You may indeed have an illness or disease, but bear in mind that your body was also created with the ability to heal. For some diseases, the outcomes may be more consistent with what a physician will tell you to expect, but remember: You are unique, and regardless of how hopeless you may feel at times, you do not know the outcome yet. Your body will do everything within its power not to give up on you! Additionally, faith gives us courage. In moments filled with doubt and fear, faith is made of the very things we need: It is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Do you feel like you need a miracle? Then understand that faith is a valuable weapon in your arsenal! A great example of this is the placebo effect: an intangible and incalculable medical anomaly wherein those who believe they have received intervention actually manifest symptoms as though the intervention has been literally received; providing “concrete evidence that the body holds within it innate self-repair mechanisms that can make unthinkable things happen.”[i]
When we believe, we know two things: 1) that we have what we need to endure, and 2) that God will continue to bestow upon us power and ability that defy our current understanding or reason.
Your brain has the power to dispatch resources toward mere survival or toward healing. It’s likely that you’ve heard of the fight-or-flight response that takes place within the human body and mind. This is a chain reaction of physical, hormonal, and chemical responses triggered for endurance, which initiate in reaction to perceived threat. Often, those experiencing the flight response don’t take the time to think rationally; they’re so driven by fear that they don’t think through their actions. In this moment, it’s possible they’ll take actions they later regret, don’t remember, or even perhaps can’t explain. This is because fear is the destroyer of reason. Additionally, in these moments, hormones are deployed as a means of survival. I (Daniel) have often said that when people panic, their brains can’t tell what type of crisis they’re facing. The brain only knows the chemical/hormonal response it’s experiencing at that moment. On this level, it is merely reading data based on instinctive switches being flipped—much like an indiscriminate light switch. The setting is either “on” or “off,” and the mind is unable to distinguish whether a person is being eaten by a bear or is panicking because he or she can’t pay the rent. The brain only knows that hormones are being deployed and alarm is taking place. This type of hype has negative consequences on the body over time, and allowing stress to run rampant within one’s thoughts contributes great overall damage to health and the ability to heal. Thus, as the brain recurrently deploys survival resources rather than healing resources, systems are overworked without any positive progress taking place within the body.
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Additionally, when we anticipate negative events, we are, in the same way, chemically and hormonally requiring the body to live through disasters that haven’t yet occurred. For example, if you are afraid you might lose your job and you ruminate on this possibility, your body must endure the metaphysical stress of that event multiple times—not just on the day it finally happens. By allowing our minds to wander to negative possibilities, we force our bodies to endure the stress response of one event over and over. (Reliving traumatic memories can trigger the same type of physical damage in this way.) Further, when we give ourselves to worrisome thoughts, we fill our extra space with this negativity rather than leaving that space for God (remember this key point for now; we’ll explain further in an upcoming chapter).
When we keep fear, anxiety, and stress at bay and instead shift our thoughts to a positive direction, we begin to do something that I (Daniel) call “living strength.” This literally causes a metaphysical response within the body to dispatch healing power, because the mind has chosen to deploy healing resources toward what we have decided by faith is real. I (Joe) used to have a friend who rightly believed in speaking the name of Jesus over every situation. When a person would say, “I have <insert illness here>,” she would lovingly correct them by saying “You mean, ‘I am fighting to claim victory over <insert illness here> in the name of Jesus.” Neither statement denies the struggle of the illness, but one calls the individual’s mind to keep faith and hope alive, while the other approach victimizes the patient and hands triumph over to illness in a battle that is not yet over.
Matthew 18:18–19 tells us that what is bound on earth is bound in Heaven, and that which is loosed on earth is loosed in Heaven. Many prosperity preachers have taken this verse out of context over the years, stating that if we desire material wealth, then to merely claim it is the first step. However, this verse isn’t talking about the things this world will pursue. It is explaining that our words have the power to dispatch heavenly forces on our behalf.
Physicians, as stated previously, are not our enemies. Their diagnoses of our illnesses are valuable for our treatment. In no way are we stating that we should disregard medical advice. Rather, we need to understand that when one of the professionals places a label on our illness, that label comes from symptom analysis, categorization, and standard treatments that are often designed to make us believe we are better when discomfort subsides. However, often, doctors present worst-case scenarios an attempt to educate us. This can incite health-damaging fear within the already-sick body. During these times, we must recall the road map of options ahead of us and remember that our Creator designed our bodies to heal.
We see this very point demonstrated when we consider obesity, which contributes to many life-threatening diseases and, left unchecked, can manifest in countless forms of danger. However, those who are obese can consider multiple options for correcting the issue. They can choose to exercise, change to a more active lifestyle, opt for nutrition-based methods, join accountability groups, or seek even more extreme measures for getting the problem under control, and can begin to lose weight and gain muscle. Before long, this metamorphosis becomes apparent to all who know those who have lost weight. Over time, they may not be easily recognized by those who haven’t seen them in a while. They may appear younger or more vibrant, and even subtle changes such as healthier hair and skin might be noticed. For many who have made this transformation, friends and family agree that they look much younger as thinner, yet older people than they did while they were obese in their earlier years. Changes such as this take place because our bodies are wired to thrive at every opportunity, which is why it is incumbent upon us to embody positive thoughts at all times. It is the doing of proactive steps that benefits our health, not the knowing.
The point we’re making bears repeating. When we receive a diagnosis, it is vital to use the label as a tool for managing the dysfunction without buying into the stigmas that might come with it. By holding fear at bay and living with strength, we metaphysically allow our bodies to dispatch healing power. Keep a mindset that you’re going to confront your health challenge by understanding that you are healing every moment you are living, because you are designed to heal.
Biochemical Power of Thought
Research has shown that suggestion has the power to create a metaphysical response from our bodies based on our expectancies.[ii] This is known as the biochemical power of suggestion. Through this, our bodies become trained to follow “ ‘response expectancies’…[otherwise known as] the ways in which we anticipate our responses in various situations…[that] set us up for automatic responses that actively influence how we get to the outcome we expect.”[iii] Confused? Allow us to clarify.
In other words, when we believe something specific will happen with our bodies, the brain begins to dispatch resources toward generating the response we expect. Have you ever made a habit of eating certain foods together? Perhaps, for years, you ate a muffin each morning with your coffee. If you were to decide to cut bread products from your diet, you would likely find yourself wishing for that muffin at the moment you smell your coffee brewing. Or, perhaps, consider the example of someone who believes he is allergic to a certain food. He may experience a reaction, even if he were to subsequently learn that he was wrong about the allergy. Another good example of the biochemical power of suggestion can be found in a person who is normally shy but believes she is be more assertive after drinking a couple of alcoholic beverages. Should her drinks be replaced with an alcohol-free cocktail, she would likely still behave in a more outgoing manner than usual because she would perceive herself to be slightly inebriated.[iv]
Another example of this is illustrated by University of Texas at Austin’s James Pennebaker, PhD, who stated:
If a visitor sits on your sofa and you say, “My dog has fleas,” watch them start scratching. They don’t have fleas, they’re just paying attention differently.[v]
Pennebaker elaborates that a person’s “focus of attention…ties closely to their health perceptions.”[vi] In other words, people can easily misinterpret symptoms as being more serious because of the anxiety that comes alongside what could be perceived to be indications of serious illness. Then, the brain’s resources are allocated toward illness rather than healing. We all know of those who, at some point, have attempted to self-diagnose by consulting the Internet. Likely, they ran across the description of a serious medical illness that fit their symptoms and panicked, but, when they went to the doctor, they learned that their illness was something much less serious. However, this type of worry, over time, has the power to worsen a situation. Through the concept of biochemical power of suggestion, the body will follow the conviction of the mind.
How, on a scientific level, is this possible?
The body’s endocrine system is responsible for regulating hormones, sleep, metabolism, emotional well-being, tissue maintenance and repair, and even sexual responses by sending communication throughout the body via the circulatory system. The hypothalamus gland is the connection of communication between the nervous system and the endocrine system. This means that stimulus coming into the brain is translated into messages by the hypothalamus. The messages are then disbursed throughout the body via the endocrine system, giving instruction regarding release of hormones, healing resources, heart rate and blood pressure, body temperature, and many other things, including appetite, thirst regulation, and sleep patterns.
The hypothalamus receives and relays emotional signals, including those pertaining to fear, anger, stress, or anxiety. As discussed previously, this is how the brain is able to trigger survival reactions throughout the body, such as cueing the “tingling” sensation in arms and legs as a result of the fight-or-flight response, the indication that the limbs are prepared to take swift, self-preserving action if necessary. This shows that the signal of threat is instantly regarded throughout the body, which immediately responds. This is a technique our brains have become equipped with over centuries of surviving, and it is facilitated by the hypothalamus gland.
Unfortunately, our brains seem hardwired for negative thought. This, in psychology, is a principle known as “negativity bias”—“our tendency not only to register negative stimuli more readily [than positive ones] but also to dwell on these events.”[vii] This is a statistically quantifiable phenomenon, meaning many studies have shown that people tend to cling to negative outcomes or feedback, and an equal amount of positive outcomes or feedback doesn’t effectively offset the damage done by the destructive. (You may have heard the adage that we need to hear seven compliments for every single insult before the damage of the hurtful comment is repaired.) This is why a bad first impression can sour a relationship for a lifetime, why childhood verbal abuse can cause an adulthood of inner struggle, and why traumatic memories can be so easily relived, despite even years of healing therapy.[viii] Many researchers theorize that this trait has evolved in the human mind for centuries for purposes of survival. When a predator was near, a pitfall existed, or an ingested plant caused illness, our predecessors were “programmed” to prioritize this recollection. It is the mind’s built-in alert system that initiates self-preservation.
Because the brain is wired to recall negative input with more stubbornness than it does the positive, and since the hypothalamus acts in response to environmental stimuli, the intake of information in a particular setting can create long-lasting habitual recall. For example, a factor associated with traumatic events—such as a location, sound, voice, scent, or physical touch—can act as a trigger, causing someone to chemically relive dire events for years after the fact. On the other hand, a song associated with a happy time can bring back a memory of carefree, youthful days, and the smell of a flower can recall one’s thoughts to a beautiful summer vacation long ago.
The good news is that our minds can be retrained. The application of this principle is much easier said than done, but by forcing negative thought patterns out of our minds and embracing positive, hopeful ones, we mandate the brain to create a new habit. At first, this is difficult.; recall that the negativity bias insists that we cling to what can go wrong, rather than to what is good or right. However, the more regularly we make positivity a habit, the easier it becomes, yielding emotional, chemical, and physical benefits.
We’ve mentioned that the hypothalamus communicates foreboding emotions such as anger, fear, stress, or anxiety. However, it’s interesting to note that the hypothalamus is also responsible for the nervous tension that, once accompanied by such “feel-good” hormones as dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin (each of which is also initiated by the hypothalamus), develops into friendship, affection, and even romantic sensations such as love.[ix] This makes sense when we recall the “butterflies in the stomach” feelings of initial attraction—that mix of anxiety and thrill. Because dopamine is one of the body’s biological rewards, the compulsion to return to the person who triggers such a response within us eventually becomes strong enough to help a friendship (or incidental meeting) grow into love.[x] When oxytocin is initiated through the hypothalamus, it’s usually accompanied by the sensation of physical touch. Vasopressin solidifies relationships by contributing to affectionate feelings that foster “social bonding with a partner.”[xi]
Because of the hypothalamus’ role in the emotional part of our brain, coupled with its efficacy as communicator to the endocrine system, we can easily see how our mood impacts the chemical responses dispatched throughout our entire bodies. This shows that the brain has a literal, physical connection to our emotional well-being and our bodily functions.
Many people confess they’ve noticed a link between their mood and their appetite, energy level, libido, ability to obtain a good night’s sleep, or even fight illness. These are all related to the communications sent throughout the endocrine system via the hypothalamus. In addition, as noted earlier, it’s an unfortunate fact that the brain is wired to hang on negative thoughts with more stubbornness than its willingness to embrace positive ones. However, when the mind is filled with positivity, we can see the chemical link between these thought patterns and overall health. This impacts the immune system, the functionality of vital organs, circulation, metabolic processes, cardiovascular activity, sleep, reproductive health, and much more. Likewise, even active physical responses such as affectionate and passionate touch are influenced, which, in turn, impacts our relationships. In this way, we act out our thoughts, which feed our state of mind, perpetuating our health in cyclical fashion. The brain, via the hypothalamus gland, literally has the power to dispatch the damaging fight-or-flight response discussed previously, or it can send healing resources through the body that keep systems balanced, regulated, and functioning at optimum levels for maximum health.
It’s a liberating and thrilling thought to realize that we have vast influence over our health just by regulating our thoughts.
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[i] Sboros, Marika. “Placebo Power—When Belief Is More Powerful Medicine Than Drugs.” Biznews Online. March 12, 2014. Retrieved April 23, 2020. https://www.biznews.com/health/2014/03/12/placebo-power-proves-belief-powerful-medicine.
[ii] Garry, Maryanne. “The Power of Suggestion: What We Expect Influences Our Behavior, for Better or Worse.” Association for Psychological Science. June 6, 2012. Accessed March 4, 2020. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/the-power-of-suggestion-what-we-expect-influences-our-behavior-for-better-or-worse.html.
[v] Murray, Bridget. “Countering the Power of Suggestion.” Monitor, June 2002. Vol. 33. No. 6. P. 56. As Retrieved from American Psychological Association on March 4, 2020. https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun02/countering.
[vii] Cherry, Kendra. “What Is the Negativity Bias?” Verywell Mind Online. April 14, 2020. Retrieved April 23, 2020. https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618.
[ix] Seladi-Schulman, Jill. “What Part of the Brain Controls Emotions?” Healthline Online. July 23, 2018. Retrieved April 23, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-part-of-the-brain-controls-emotions#love.