If you’ve been on instagram or pinterest for any amount of time, you’ve surely been inundated with the latest buzzword: SELF CARE. But what’s all the hype about? Seemingly out of nowhere, people are realizing the importance of taking a metaphorical chill pill?
Eh, not exactly. But the internet allows things to catch like wildfire, for better or worse. Stress is an epidemic and it’s taking us down.
A little CBD or THC with my TLC really goes a long way as far as my personal selfcare goes, but I’m going to leave pot out of the equation for now and come back to basics.
I think we all know by now that the art of the self care slow down not only decreases stress, but has the ability to increase creativity and productivity -and our brains really eat this stuff up. But this isn’t another one of those “meditate daily and your life will be changed forever” posts…because I already did that over HERE.
Nope, we are going down a different rabbit hole. Third grade science class.
Self Care, Spontaneous Remission, and a Curse
The placebo effect is an inconvenient truth for the scientific community because it ‘gets in the way’ of introducing new treatments and surgeries into the medical space. For all of us non doctor/scientist folks, it’s great news! Its concrete evidence that the mind can heal the body -that the body holds within it innate self repair mechanisms.
If this is difficult for you to believe (you cute, skeptic, you), check this thing out!
The Spontaneous Remission Project is an annotated bibliography of over 3500 case studies of patients becoming cured of “incurable” illnesses. People went from HIV pos to HIV neg; stage 4 cancers shown to disappear without treatment, kidney failure, heart diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive system diseases, autoimmune diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, you name it…GONE. Sounds like the stuff of celebrity tabloids but this is medical literature here. This shit has been vetted!
So does that mean my mind can heal my body? You can call it a miracle, but I’d like to go a bit deeper with evidence based studies and a whole lot of personal curiosity.
YES, your mind CAN heal your body in many cases,
and it can also make you worse off.
The NOcebo is the opposite of the well-known placebo. A nocebo effect is said to occur when negative expectations of the patient regarding a treatment cause the treatment to have a more negative effect than it otherwise would have. If this just sounds like a bunch of science mumbo jumbo, let me hit ya with a freaky fact.
Science and story time!
It’s a another slice of medical literature and it seems more like a Grimm fairytale.
Dr. Lissa Rankin describes the case study of 3 girls born on Friday the 13th near the Okefenokee Swamp near the Florida-Georgia border. A midwife who delivered them told the mother that all three girls were hexed, being born on such a fateful day. “The first, she announced, would die before her 16th birthday. The second, before her 21st. And the patient in question was told she would die before her 23rd birthday. As it turns out, the first two girls died the day before their 16th and 21st birthdays, respectively. The third woman, terrified that she would die on her 23rd birthday, showed up at the hospital the day before her birthday, hyperventilating. Remembering all too well what had happened to her sisters, she was begging hospital staff to keep her alive. Soon afterwards, just before she turned 23, she died, proving the midwife’s predictions correct.
This is an extreme example of the nocebo effect, when fear-based thoughts about your health can actually kill you. But HOLY MOLY the mind is….MINDBLOWING (sorry, I had to) and oh, so powerful!
And these cases aren’t the only ones of their kind. “Medical hexing” is a term known in the health field for when your doctor tells you something along the lines of “your incurable disease is going to do you in….and you have X amount of months to live. Good luck!” The Nocebo effect shows us that when this happens, practitioners are doing more harm than good. This self-fulfilling prophecy is essentially setting the patient up to do just that, a mortal countdown. A thorough list of empirical studies were put together and published by researchers from the Technical University of Munich suggesting that medical professionals and lay people alike would do well to take the Nocebo phenomenon into consideration.
So WHY is self care so hyped right now?
Because it matters. It’s actually life or death, just not in the typical sense we tend to think of it as. Rather than being proactive, most of us don’t start taking our health and wellbeing seriously until it’s a little (or drastically) off. People are under the illusion that self care is selfish and that stress is their motivation to get anything done at all.
It’s not our fault, per se. But there is power in bringing awareness to this.
Our brains love patterns and we have conditioned ourselves to think that this stress overload is necessary based on past thoughts and experiences when we were stressed to the max and then able to check something off the to-do list. But I’d like to challenge that notion by saying you accomplished things in the past IN SPITE of your stress, NOT because of it. It’s more primitive than that.
SELF CARE AND YOUR BRAIN
Let me break it down, neuro nerd style.
Your brain communicates with your entire body through hormones and neurotransmitters. When you have a negative thought, feeling or emotion your brain triggers this as a threat. If you’re feeling isolated, pessimistic, pushed to your limits at work, confused on where your relationship is going…well, your amygdala freaks the fuck out screaming, “AHHHHH! THREAT! THREAT! THREAT!”
Then it turns on the hypothalamus which then talks to the pituitary gland which talks to the adrenal gland. The sympathetic nervous system turns on and triggers stress hormones like cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. These hormones create physical effects in your body and over a period of time- without self awareness for self care- this turns into chronic stress and manifests itself physiologically in the body.
Our brain is handling these constant daily stressors with hardware that was created to handle literal life or death situations. This fight or flight stress reaction HAS to go into rest mode just after the “short lived threat” is gone. This allows your body to self regulate and brings you back to equilibrium. But in this new age of keeping up with the Joneses, I mean Kardashians, we barely get the chance to recover. The “short lived threats” are lasting longer than the typical lion-caveman attack scenario we’ve all heard about.
Remember that you share this part of your brain with basically everything that has evolved since the first fish crawled out of the swamp(!!). This is not the human-specific sexy prefrontal cortex that has rational thought and decision making. This is the primitive limbic system that controls stress arousal. And if you don’t manage it with the more evolved parts of your brain, it’ll also control you.
HOW TO INFLUENCE THE DANCE BETWEEN YOUR BRAIN AND BODY?
Saying you can heal yourself is sort of a misnomer, but the body does and can heal itself; it has these innate natural self repair mechanisms. To understand this more fully we gotta come full circle. Let’s bring it back to the placebo/nocebo effect.
The nocebo intensifies negative symptoms and experiences, sometimes even to the extreme point of death. Placebo, however, only ever works if the patient or research participant is relaxed. And likewise, our brain depends on this refractory period. (ie. self care sister sesh, dabbing and deep dives, cannabis and contemplation….okay let me get back into it)
Is Self Care just R+R?
Herbert Benson, Harvard researcher describes the counterbalancing relaxation effect as just a fancy way of saying, “slow down, guys!”. When we give ourselves the time to experience this counterbalancing relaxation response (okay, I feel like I’m back in college writing a paper now so I’m going to call it R+R) we turn OFF that stress response and turn ON the parasympathetic nervous system. Healing hormones are released during the R+R process, flooding the body. And I’ll take oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins over the stressful shit any day.
When you’re having stress responses, all of those natural repair mechanisms get flipped off -your body is far too busy with the whole fighting and fleeing thing to manage anything else (bodies are interesting like that, prioritizing and such). But when you incorporate self care and learn to manage your mind by incorporating some R+R, miraculous things happen. Remember those spontaneous remission cases I mentioned in the beginning? Yep, those natural healing mechanisms only happened because the nervous system was relaxed enough to allow recovery to occur.
Scientists are now saying the placebo effect and the relaxation response (R+R) are one in the same. But it doesn’t have to mean we are tricking ourselves into health or relying on the power of affirmations. It’s just allowing your healing hormones to let loose, giving yourself the time and space, and for some of us that means a joint, 7 books, yoga pants, and the open road, okay?
How do you practice self care? What does that look like?
More importantly, how often?
Discipline can equal freedom. Are you making time for yourself on a consistent basis?
Munich uni: Hauser W, Hansen E, Enck P (2012). “Nocebo phenomena in medicine: their relevance in everyday clinical practice”. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 8 (8): 459–65.
Herbert Benson: Dusek, Jeffery A., Hasan H. Otu, Ann L. Wohlhueter, Manoj Bhasin, Luiz F. Zerbini, Marie G. Joseph, Herbert Benson, and Towia A. Libermann. 2008. Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response. PLoS ONE 3(7): e2576.
Welcome home! My name is Lindsey and I nurture free spirits for a living. Blazed + Amused is a space for personal growth, development and empathy with Mama Ganja as our intuitive healing tool. I serve those looking to change their story from burn out and apathy to Blazed and Amused, a lifted lifestyle from the inside out. By combining cannabis wellness, cognitive science and creative inspiration, I create tools of change + connection. My meaningful work is to help bring more mindfulness and fulfilment to your rituals around Mary Jane. Check out my weed blog or 420 Shop for more. Cheers!