Langer’s point is simple, and seems rather obvious – what goes on in the mind can affect the body. It can affect your health.
The trouble is that it isn’t obvious to everyone, including a lot of doctors. Medical schools teach doctors how to deal with physical health. Specialties like psychiatry exist for mental health. It’s only been fairly recently that the two have begin to step into each other’s territory. (And psychiatry itself has branches of practice – some looking for physical causes and physical solutions for mental problems, while others seek different kinds of approaches and treatments.)
As for Langer’s point – the mind can affect the body – I’m a textbook case.
As I mentioned before, for several months I’ve been dealing with a back issue – bulging disc likely pinching a nerve. It’s been unpleasant. For two weeks in August, I worked from home, because I was at maximum strength pain meds and driving wasn’t a good idea.
The problem has been slowly improving, with the help of a combination of both physical and mental exercises. I recognized fairly early on what was happening – I transfer stress straight to my back. So I’ve been in physical therapy and “mental therapy” – having daily conversations with my brain.
At work, when I see heavy stress coming, I begin talking with my brain. I essentially start preparing it (and me) for what I see happening and how we’re going to deal with it. And it works. I talk myself into calm and let the stress wash right over my head.
The proof is what happens when I get ambushed by stress – when I don’t see it coming. Bam! Straight to the back. And sometimes, both things happen – I see it coming and when it comes it throws an unexpected curve. The resulting pain falls somewhere in the middle.
I’m also talking with friends about it. My old way of dealing with stress goes back a long, long time. Change is difficult; old patterns have to be broken and new ones put together.
I’m actually putting into daily practice the kind of mindfulness Langer advocates. I haven’t agreed with everything she says; I’ve taken issue with some parts of her book that I think slip over into pseudo-science and opinion.
But here, despite all the dense academic stuff, she is making a good point. Problems in the mind can manifest themselves physically. That doesn’t mean all physical problems come from the mind, but it does mean the mind if a lot more powerful than we give it credit for, and problems in the mind, or even ways of behaving, can lead to physical problems.
To see more posts on Ellen Langer’s Mindfulness, please visit The High Calling. And thanks to Laura for leading the discussion groups these past several weeks, and putting up with my occasional rants about the book.