Most of us have heard about the placebo effect, however less is known about the nocebo effect. The placebo effect shows the positive correlation between our mind-body connection, our body’s ability to heal itself. However, what we are started to understand is that the opposite is also true, it’s called the nocebo effect.
The nocebo effect shows us the negative side of our mind-body connection. Essentially, it’s the connection between negative thought patterns and beliefs which manifest themselves mentally and physically.
The nocebo effect is due to psychological or psychosomatic factors which produce detrimental effects to your health, such as a negative prognosis or negative treatment expectations.
What is the Mind-Body Connection?
We all know that the mind is very powerful, although we probably don’t fully understand just how powerful it is. Science is starting to accept the mind-body connection, and there are already numerous studies about how stress, anxiety and negative thinking can affect your health. However, there’s still a long way before the mind-body connection is fully accepted and no longer termed “woo woo” or “pseudoscience”.
One study done shows how the nocebo effect can occur. Researchers compared two different placebos using two groups of people for treating their arm pain. The first group unknowingly received a sugar pill and the second group unknowingly received a fake acupuncture treatment using retractable needles.
The results from the fake acupuncture group demonstrated the placebo effect well, with the group reporting less arm pain. However, what was fascinating was how both groups demonstrated the nocebo effect. Both treatments were fake, however both groups reported negative side effects from their treatments.
The fake acupuncture group reported pain, swelling and redness after their treatment and the sugar pill group reported feeling sluggish, with some feeling so tired that they couldn’t get out of bed.
What is more fascinating about these “side effects” is that the groups experienced what they were TOLD they might experience after treatment. Oh, the power of suggestion!
Currently researchers have mostly been focusing on the mind’s ability to heal the body, the placebo effect. All clinical trials randomly assign patients to either a treatment group (with the real drug or treatment), or a placebo group (a fake drug or treatment). The patients do not know which group they are assigned to, and those in the placebo group often show improvement even though their treatment is fake. Simply because they believe they are taking the real drug.
However, along with this, people who take the placebo also report side effects such as nausea, pain or headaches. This is due to the warnings they receive. Both groups (placebo and drug group) receive the same information and the same warnings about possible side effects. This causes even the people in the placebo group to experience negative side effects simply because they expected it. This demonstrates the nocebo effect.
So how can this apply to ever day life? Do you have constant and ongoing negative thoughts patterns or beliefs such as;
I have read many books on this subject and have learned an important lesson that many people don’t realise at first. It’s not so much the occasional negative thought that will suddenly make you ill, it’s more about something your truly believe. Those self-help books which make people believe that they should never have a negative though are ridiculous. You’re going to have negative thoughts, but you don’t have to believe them.
The nocebo effect is as real as the placebo effect, but it’s not something to fear. By being aware of which thoughts you choose to get caught up in, and truly believe, can change your perspective and may even change your health; hopefully for the better!
I tend to plan almost everything. I like to know what’s going to happen and how I will get from point A to point B. Yet more often than not, my plans are interrupted and this makes me uneasy. I don’t like not being in control. If I make a plan, no matter how small, I like to stick to it. And when something comes along and changes my plan, and it will, anxiety will jump in and sing ner ner ner your world is crumbling.
A certain smarty pants has managed to bring this to my attention on and off for the last eleven months. Whether this person is aware of this or not, it has helped me to change my way of thinking. You can make as many plans as you like about your future, short or long term, but you also need to realise that something will very likely come along and change what you “thought” was the best outcome for you and usually give you an even better outcome.
Unfortunately, when you’re lost in that freak out, “no no no, it was meant to go THIS way, not that way”, then you fail to see that you're being given something much better. It’s the whole ‘can’t see the forest for the tress’ expression.
Trying to control every aspect of your life only makes life a struggle. Controlling things or people only pushes those things or people away. The tighter you hold onto something, the more it pulls away. However, the thought of letting go of control is a very scary idea, especially for control freaks. It feels like allowing chaos in to run rampant through your "very well-managed life".
I think the root of the problem is down to one word, ‘trust’. Letting go of control means that you need to trust that everything will be ok. You need to trust that life will flow naturally without your constant micromanagement. That’s bloody scary.
Bad things will happen and you will deal with them as they do. Let go rather than trying to control and prevent what you fear. This only makes things worse while creating a lot of stress and worry along the way.
Trusting and letting go doesn’t mean becoming passive. It means flowing with life naturally and doing what you need to do, or can do ONLY when you need to do it. Not thinking about what you could do or should do when you can't do anything at all. That's called worrying. Or did I just confuse you, I think I confused myself.
I’ll always be a planner; I’ll make lists and plan how I will get from A to B. There’s nothing wrong with being organised. How satisfying is it to cross things off a list as they get done, or is that just me?
The problem arises when you can’t embrace change, when you fall apart because your well intentioned plans have fallen apart. Learning to accept and go with the flow of life does take a lot of stress out of the entire process. I probably should be listening to my own advice.
I do know however, that putting this into practice is a lot harder than simply writing it down. But just recognising when your control freakiness rears its ugly head is the first step to changing your attitude for the better.
“Live every day as it comes” – Sir Smarty Pants.
I'm a freelance writer currently writing for an awesome marketing company in Perth. I have a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and human biology, and a Graduate Diploma in Human Nutrition, which both contribute to my writing.