Researchers at the Stanford Mind & Body Lab have launched a project exploring people’s perceptions of and reactions to the coronavirus in the United States. The mind actually can do some remarkable things, including shaping our health and well-being.
Probably the best known way the mind shapes reality is the placebo effect, where people get better if they simply believe they are being treated for a disease. For ages, that was viewed as just an experimental hassle – something to take into account when testing the effectiveness of a new drug, for example.
Yet doctors are starting to rethink placebos not as a hassle but as an actual path to better health. After all, placebo effects and the underlying mindsets and social contexts that create them have real effects on health, from reducing anxiety and blood pressure to easing pain and boosting immune systems. Those effects extend beyond medicine per se.
People who believe doing physical work in a job counts as “exercise” live longer lives, independent of how much exercise they actually get. Likewise, telling people a smoothie they drank was “indulgent” made them feel more full. Telling them a drink they were consuming had caffeine raised their blood pressure.
If we truly want to tackle the diseases and crises of our time, we need to more effectively acknowledge and leverage the power of mindset.