In her casebook this week, Olivia Stephanino looks at the connection between physical ailments and the mind.
The interconnection of mind and body never fail to amaze me – and over the years I have seen various clients for work-related stress problems whose physical ailments often reflect their thinking processes and speech patterns.
And it’s not just me making these observations from my own office in Chester. Take the case of Tim, for example, which is cited in the “The Placebo Response”, an excellent book by Howard Brody, MD.
Tim, a 34-year-old had seen his personal medical practitioner, Dr Hankins, several times over a couple of months with an irritating skin rash.
“Initially,” writes Brody, “Tim’s condition was frustrating because his doctor couldn’t recognise the rash as representing any specific disease – and the general skin remedies he prescribed didn’t alleviate the constant itch Tim reported.
“On the third or fourth visit, Hankins decided to try a new tack and act on his belief in the mind-body connection by asking Tim to describe in general what had been going on in his life during the past several months.
“Tim talked a little about his family and home but, when he switched the subject to work, it became evident that he and his boss were having a serious conflict which seemed to have worsened around the time the rash appeared.
“After listening to Tim rant on about his superior’s maddening mannerisms and boundless shortcomings, Dr Hankins had an inspiration; the next time Tim stopped to get his breath, the doctor observed, ‘It sounds like he really gets under your skin.”
The story concludes, “If Tim had been a character in a cartoon, you would have seen a little light bulb start to glow over his head as he made the connection. He immediately agreed that the timing was perfect to explain the symptom. The rash disappeared shortly and never bothered him again.”
The language that we use to describe our everyday problems also plays a role in our experience of health. Several years back a hairdresser called Vivien told me about her severe neck problems, which were being exacerbated by crumbling spinal disks. Changing the subject, she started telling me about several issues in her life – and to my amusement, she described each problem as a “complete pain in the neck”.
While it would have been optimistic to expect Vivien’s symptoms to be immediately alleviated, she did find that by changing her language patterns – and choosing to see problems as “challenges” rather than as a “pain in the neck”, the number of painful flare-ups reduced from weekly to monthly.
* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet Ò128 ways to harness your personal powerÓ at beyourownguru.com.