Mind Over Sports

The Relationship of Disposition to Disease

Posted on: March 12, 2007

As long ago as the Fifth Century B.C., Greek physicians believed whatever happened in the mind influenced the body. Later, in the Second Century A.D., anatomists and physiologists were beginning to identify a connection between disposition and disease. The mind-body connection and its relationship to health also date back to the Buddha. In Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry, Terry Clifford wrote:

The essence of his (the Buddha’s) teaching is to tame the mind and transmute the negative emotions. The Buddha taught that mind is the basis of all phenomena. Mind creates matter and mind creates illness and wellness. And herein lies the fundamental psychosomatic assumption of Buddhist medicine.

In an article entitled “The Will to Stay Well,” in The New York Times Magazine, the author observed that science has little explanation for the idea the “people can use thoughts and attitudes to regulate what would seem to be involuntary reactions to pressure, and that such control can affect physical health.”

A movie on CBS television recounted the true story of a woman who had cancer and her battle to overcome it. When her cancer was first diagnosed, she made drastic changes in her diet, began exercising and even practiced visualization. It didn’t appear to help. Then, her family doctor recommended she consult a psychiatrist who suggested she had some unresolved issues with her mother who had died that past year and that these issues were a source of great stress for her. At her psychiatrist’s suggestion, she visited her mother’s grave and spent an uninterrupted 24-hour period talking with her mother at graveside, discussing issues between them that had gone unresolved before her death. She then returned home, and began her program to put her illness into remission and this time was successful. She had brought an important unresolved issue in her life to completion and was on the road to recovery.

Richard Bloch, founder of the R.A. Bloch Cancer Support Center in Kansas City, Missouri, once stated that he thought in the next 20 or 30 years, when someone was diagnosed as having cancer, they would immediately see a psychiatrist or other therapist to assist them in probing issues in their lives that may be the source of significant stress.

Much current research also shows that suppressed anger can have a powerful effect on health. Dr. Harriet Goldhor Lerner, a practicing psychotherapist, wrote:

Some people avoid anger and conflict at all cost to protect the security of a relationship. They give in, they go along, they accommodate. Too much of the self becomes compromised under the relationship pressures.
Then, there are men and women who get angry with ease, but the anger leads to no resolution because in each case the real issues are not identified and addressed.

Dr. Lerner is describing individuals with low self-images who fear the consequences of confronting important issues in their lives.

There is a stereotype of persons with high blood pressure as fuming volcanoes that erupt at the slightest irritation. But according to Dr. Samuel Mann of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, adults suffering from hypertension often fall at the opposite end of the spectrum. He maintains many people bury past traumas, and that eliciting the trauma and getting patients to deal with them can dramatically lower blood pressure. “Their emotions,” says Mann, “are being expressed through their bodies rather than consciously or verbally.”

An 18-year study conducted by the University of Michigan revealed how harmful suppressed anger is to women. The study found that the death rate was three times higher for those who suppress their feelings. Women who hold in their anger may think they are being polite, but they are also risking their lives.

Dr. Redford Williams, a researcher in behavioral medicine at Duke University also found:

People who often explode in hostile rages or who sit around fuming over every perceived slight may be doing more than making themselves unpleasant. The may be killing themselves. Researchers have gathered a wealth of data suggesting that chronic anger hurts the body so badly that it ranks with, or even exceeds, cigarette smoking, obesity and a high-fat diet as a powerful risk factor for early death.

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