How do we optimize the body for health and healing?
How come some people don't feel better *even when* doing everything right?
These are the questions I sought to answer through what I now call The Restorative Method. I wanted to address why some of us might struggle to get well (without pointing the finger at willpower or discipline) and see if I could better break down how to incorporate "self-care" or natural healing remedies with a greater chance of success.
Because what I've learned is that our tactics aren't necessarily the problem. It’s not that there’s some health secret we just haven’t found out or been told about yet. It’s not necessarily that we need to try one more thing or be more committed *that much more* to health and healing. Instead, what I've found is that we're not asking the right question nor focusing on the right result in the first place.
We don't want to ask... "Why didn't this work for me?" ... but rather... "Did this even have the opportunity to work for me?" So that before we tweak our tools, we first assess their efficacy. Which means it's not just about asking... "Did this tool help me feel better? ... but first it's about asking... "Did this tool ACTUALLY reduce the stress on my body?"
Here's what I mean.
Would you believe that what you think you're eating can affect what you're actually eating? That there's a difference between the food placed in front of you -- and what you perceive that food to be? That your body may respond to what you *think* you're eating OVER what you're actually taking in?
The first time I was introduced to this topic was throughout the book Mind Over Medicine. Author Dr. Lissa Rankin wrote this book to discuss the body's innate ability to self-repair -- and highlight our capacity for influencing this ability through the power of the mind.
In Mind Over Medicine, Dr. Rankin shares a study done by Dr. Alia Crum, clinical psychologist at Yale University, called "Mind Over Milkshake". This study has since become one of my most favorite examples of how the mind can influence the physical body. It shows how our beliefs about the foods we're eating can impact the digestive system even more than the contents of the food itself.
If you want to feel better, you need these two things to be happening. You need to spend time out of a stressed state and spend time in a relaxed state. In other words, people who want to optimize the body for health and healing need time out of what's called the stress response and time in what's called the relaxation response.
Dr. Lissa Rankin, author of the book Mind Over Medicine, explains this best. She says, “The body has natural self-repair mechanisms that fight disease, kill bacteria, get rid of toxins and foreign bodies, repair broken proteins, slow aging, and generally keep the body healthy. But…. those natural self-repair mechanisms don’t function when the nervous system is in the midst of a ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response. Only when the nervous system is in a counterbalancing relaxed state – in what Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard named ‘the relaxation response’ – can the body effectively heal itself.”
In very generalized terms, this idea that we need to spend time out of the stress response and spend time in the relaxation response is what natural treatment and self care aims to address. It's why we might be recommended to make dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, practice regular Yoga, create a daily meditation routine, etc. These area all just tools for moving the body from a stressed state to a relaxed state in an effort to feel better.
In other words, these self-care or natural treatment plans have the ability to calm down (again as Dr. Rankin says) the “trigger-happy, freaked out amygdala responsible for activating stress responses”.
What exactly is all this stress fuss about?