Self-fulfilling prophecies: How convictions affect health and wellness

Everyone feels down from time to time; occasionally feeling sad or angry is a part of life. However, if a self-defeating attitude becomes permanent, it can draw a line between confidence and pessimism. It has long been known that the mind has a great influence on the physical body and researchers in San Diego, California, set out to determine if Chinese beliefs about medicine and astrology affected their longevity.

The study entitled “Psychology and survival,” published in The Lancet: Psychology, compared the life spans of Chinese-American participants to participants who identified as Caucasian. Researchers discovered that Chinese-Americans who had particular combinations of diseases and birth years deemed inauspicious in Chinese culture were more likely to die earlier than average. Observing this pattern in a randomly selected group pulled from a pool of 28,169 entries, researchers largely attributed this difference in life span to psychosomatic complications.

Contributing to the health and wellness web publication MindBodyGreen, Lissa Rankin, MD, author of The New York Times bestselling book “Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself,” remembers as a medical student learning all of the things that can go wrong with the human body. Racing to keep up with her study schedule in addition to working very long hours, her heart rate shot to 230 beats per minute. After a doctor’s visit, she was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, a condition causing rapid heart rate resulting from inconsistencies in the heart’s lower chambers. As this condition proved common among medical students who were under extreme stress due to heavy workloads, the health clinic adopted a new name for it: “medstudentitis.”

Negativity, fear and anxiety can result in what American psychologist Martin Seligman termed “learned helplessness.” In 1965 Seligman carried out research into classical conditioning using dogs. A bell was rung followed by a small electric shock, and, over time, just the sound of the bell caused the dogs to react as though a shock had been administered. These negative stimuli trigger the fight-or-flight response that produces cortisol, the stress hormone predisposing a person to illness.

Fortunately, the situation can be reversed by a changing negative thought patterns that result from stressful situations. Dr. Bernie Siegel, author of “Love, Medicine and Miracles” asked Rankin how long she intended to live. When Rankin told him 100 years, Dr. Siegal replied, “Good answer, because what you believe will come true.” Maintaining positive thoughts regarding physical and mental health prevents the release of potentially damaging stress hormones making for healthier lives.

For many, the task of reversing negative thought patterns requires the assistance of a mental health professional. If you or a family member is suffering from anxiety, depression or any other mental health disorder, call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at any time for more information on treatment options.