There’s no doubt a link exists between mental and physical health, but it can sometimes be difficult to tease apart fact from conjecture when it comes to the mind-body connection. The internet is full of so-called experts on the subject, and thousands of books claim to have the answers. Where do you look for an authoritative take?
One helpful place to start is with medical professionals who coexist in both conventional and alternative approaches to wellness. We’re thrilled to share a handful of our favorites! These five books come from board-certified doctors and psychologists with one foot in the world of complementary medicine. Each explores verifiable proof of the mind’s power over the body, while maintaining a healthy respect for the great mystery that is the mind-body connection.
1. Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil, MD ($8): You don’t have to believe in miracles to acknowledge that sometimes the body heals itself against all odds. Dr. Andrew Weil’s seminal work Spontaneous Healing offers an exploration of how and why this sometimes occurs. Each chapter discusses patients Weil has seen recover from supposedly incurable conditions. The common threads? Joyful life experiences, positive beliefs, and emotional healing.
One woman falls in love and recovers from lupus, another forgives her mother for past hurts and heals from a rare spleen disorder. A man believes a bee sting cures his arthritis — and turns out to be right. Weil builds upon these stories with concrete science behind the healing, plus a bit of metaphysical theorizing on the why behind each one.
2. Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John Sarno, MD ($7): John Sarno was an attending physician at a well-known medical institute in New York when he noticed a curious pattern in his patients. MRIs of patients who suffered crippling back pain often revealed no physical abnormalities, while those who reported perfect health frequently turned up with herniated discs, pinched nerves, and other (ostensibly) painful conditions.
In his search for an explanation, Sarno discovered that patients who experienced back pain shared many common emotional — rather than physical — characteristics. Healing Back Pain chronicles Sarno’s development of a theory he calls Tension Myositis Syndrome. People with this syndrome (also called Mind-Body Syndrome) routinely suppress negative emotions, which then manifest as painful physical symptoms. Though the book’s title focuses on back pain, Sarno extrapolates his findings to include numerous other health conditions, from fibromyalgia to migraine headaches.
3. Mind Over Medicine by Lissa Rankin, MD ($16): Written by a Gen-X obstetrician-turned-holistic healer, Mind Over Medicine reads like your gal pal’s guide to the mind-body connection. Lissa Rankin, MD focuses primarily on the incredible power of belief on our health. Taking the reader on an extraordinarily readable meta-analysis of hundreds of studies, she proves that the often-disparaged placebo effect is actually a very good thing. People who believe a treatment will work or think positively about their health often tend to prove themselves right.
Rankin also weaves in her own journey from a workaholic conventional doc who never took care of her own health to an alternative practitioner full of zest for life.
4. It’s Not All in Your Head by Gordon J. G. Asmundson, PhD and Steven Taylor, PhD ($15): Health anxiety is a vicious cycle — one that Canadian psychologists Gordon Asmundson and Steven Taylor have seen all too often. Noticing a distressing physical symptom can lead to obsessing over it. This obsessive anxiety, left unchecked, has the power to actually produce symptoms of its own, creating a tangled web of mental and physical problems. This book helps separate truth from fiction when it comes to knowing what’s really of concern, and when you might be inadvertently causing your own suffering. If anxiety about your health has ever gotten in the way of your quality of life, It’s Not All in Your Head! is a must-read.
5. They Can’t Find Anything Wrong! by David D. Clarke, MD ($17): Ever been to the doctor for a troubling physical problem, only to be told your tests are all normal? While this news should theoretically reassure us, it comes as rather frustrating feedback when our symptoms are very real. Clarke claims that “stress illness” — symptoms that are indeed real, but not caused by anything physical — could be the culprit behind up to half of Americans’ visits to the doctor.
They Can’t Find Anything Wrong! examines the influence of emotional and mental factors behind a host of common symptoms and conditions. Childhood trauma, depression, and even everyday stressors could all manifest as mysterious ailments. Clarke’s book provides an action plan for getting to the root of these for healing.
Got a great book to add to the list? Tweet us @BritandCo!
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(Featured photo via Getty)