Writing for LV= life insurance, science journalist Holly Cave explores the powerful effects of positive thinking.
It’s well-established that the placebo effect is real when it comes to influencing the effectiveness of a ‘medicine’, even if it’s just a sugar pill.
Placebos can also help the healing process alongside effective medicine. By speaking positively about treatments, providing encouragement and positive reassurance, doctors can reduce their patients’ anxiety, and enhance their feeling of being cared for. This can improve symptoms and recovery for a range of conditions including pain, sleep disorders, depression and even Parkinson’s disease.
‘Optimism can reduce vulnerability to illness,’ says Dr Ilona Boniwell, a psychologist based at Anglia Ruskin University. ‘There’s a famous study demonstrating that nuns who were much happier lived about nine years longer than nuns in the same convent who were less happy.’
The study Ilona is talking about was on the links between positivity and longevity in over 600 Catholic nuns of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The research team read short autobiographies the nuns had written in their twenties and found that those who used positive emotional language to describe their experiences were more likely to be alive and healthy fifty to seventy years later.
Research has shown that thinking positively is enough to aid recovery from even serious illness, and can help disaster victims overcome the psychological scars of their trauma.
Visualisation is one way of doing this. Visualise your body fighting back against the problems you’re experiencing. Ilona suggests wearing an elastic band around your wrist and snapping it every time you experience a negative emotion.
‘Once the band forces you to acknowledge the negative emotion, you can try to understand why it’s there and where it’s coming from,’ she says.