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Have you ever worried yourself sick? Maybe you went through an especially devastating breakup, and your chest started to hurt. Or maybe a flight you were really hoping to be on got delayed and you spent the next few hours at the airport medicating a nasty migraine. Far from coincidence, all of this happens because the body and the mind are intimately intertwined. How the brain interprets our thoughts, moods, and life experiences has a measurable—sometimes devastating—impact on our physical health. Everything from gut health to how we experience pain can depend on something as simple as our expectations and past experiences. But don’t worry. Just like you can stress yourself into being sick after a breakup or a delayed flight, it is equally possible to harness the brain-body connection to both feel and fare better.
In The Power of Mind over Body, unpack the science behind the brain-body connection and explore the cutting-edge therapies that claim to reduce pain, slow disease, and eliminate fatigue, not via pharmaceutical or surgical intervention but simply by targeting how a person thinks and feels. Your expert is Jo Marchant, an award-winning science journalist and speaker who has spent her career studying the brain and the role it plays in physical health. With her background in genetics and medical microbiology, she has taken a topic as complicated as the human brain and designed 12 clear, concise, and informative lectures that will change the way you think about disease; your body; and, more generally, about physical health.
Together with Jo, you will examine the chemistry and physiology of the placebo effect. You will explore the mechanics of pain—What does it mean to hurt on a biological level? You will study a series of real-world experiments that measure the impact of mindsets on pain, fatigue, stress, and disease progression, getting to know a cast of scientists from Fabrizio Benedetti to Ted Kaptchuk who are doing pioneering but maligned and underfunded work in the field. You will work through prospective solutions that harness the brain-body partnership for the better, such as psychogastroenterology, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), comfort talk, and mindfulness. And you will discuss what it would actually take for modern medicine to embrace the body-mind connection and to build a medical system that handles disease holistically.
Behind the Mind-Body Connection
Before exploring the ways in which you can take advantage of and benefit from the mind’s powerful role in physical health and wellness, it is important to understand the science. How do drugs, placebos, pain, and chronic fatigue function—electrically, biologically, chemically? And what, if anything, have we learned from years of research both old and new, familiar and unfamiliar? Before we can treat ourselves and others by capitalizing on the muscle of the mind—before we can call for a health revolution that spotlights therapies harnessing the power of thoughts, feelings, social circumstances, and expectations—we first must understand how our brain communicates with and regulates body systems.
Using years of Jo’s own research as a springboard, you will spend time getting to know the scientists, doctors, and psychologists doing vital work on the brain’s contribution to physical health and disease, working through a cadre of studies on drug and placebo therapy, immunity, pain management, altitude sickness, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and so much more. You will define and apply key concepts like predictive coding to understand how the brain interprets the world around itself. And you will be able to talk authoritatively about how your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions impact function across all systems—digestive, cardiovascular, lymphatic, and everything in between.
After working through the basic science, turn your attention to therapies. How, that is, can everyday people take advantage of the mind-body link to treat pain; slow disease progression; ease fatigue; improve physical fitness; and live better, longer, healthier lives overall? Unsurprisingly, you will find that a lot of it boils down to targeting our mindsets, our social circumstances, our expectations, the way we think about and approach illness, even if terminal or completely debilitating. In 12 lectures, you will investigate the real impact and efficacy of therapies such as:
Round out the course by considering what comes next. What does a mind-body revolution in medicine and care actually look like? How can we get skeptical health professionals and funding bodies to take pioneering research in the field seriously? What do we have to do to convince patients battling chronic fatigue or plagued by gastric distress not to throw away conventional medicine—drugs, surgery, rest, rehab—but to supplement it with therapies that target their mindsets, expectations, and moods? With a better understanding of the crucial relationship of the mind and the body, the future of medicine may lie in finding ways to optimize the balance of the two—not only in medical settings, but in everyday life, as well.
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