Commentary

What's Your Story? Emotional Engagement For Better Health Outcomes

Your story is the narrative of belief you tell yourself, and others. We are constantly creating stories about ourselves. It’s so much a part of our lives that pharmaceutical companies tend to use them as their mission statements. 

Often people living with illness are caught up in negative stories. Their perception of themselves and their health create a reality because the conscious mind believes what we tell it; our actions follow that storyline and those actions make up our lives. For example, have you ever dwelled on a particular worry or fear and it becomes reality? Or, if you tell yourself that you are not good enough, strong enough or well enough to be healthy, you do not seek out new treatment options?

You may have created a story where you’re unworthy, a burden to others or somehow your illness is your fault. We have found that positive emotional storytelling can help change the narrative through the example of real, relatable people. In creating emotional real stories of triumph over chronic illness that people can relate to on a deep level, we can begin to change the “sickness mindset” and increase healthier actions. 

A limiting story affects your health outcomes

When your story revolves around negative, limiting thoughts repeated unconsciously every day, it affects your resiliency, your ability to handle stress and overcome adversity. Without resiliency, it’s very difficult to take care of yourself, go to doctor appointments, medication compliance, etc.

Dr. Joe Dispenza, bestselling author of Breaking The Habit Of Being Yourself, researched the connection between perception and illness. He teaches that every experience you have, and every part of your story, creates a multi-sensorial memory. These memories are linked with emotions. Whether you are harboring anger, frustration, sadness, loneliness, or boredom, these negative feelings reinforce your memories, and determine your self-perception.

On the biological level, a redundancy of negative feelings and thoughts activates certain pains, which then allow diseases to manifest and break the body down. Eckhart Tolle, bestselling author of A New Earth, refers to these pains as “painbodies.” Painbodies are another form of memory that instructs the brain to release chemicals that can either cause or alleviate stress. The body’s response to stress is controlled by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.

When we are stressed, the brain alerts the adrenal glands, which respond by secreting the hormone cortisol. A little bit of cortisol lowers inflammation, the body’s protective resource. But when we experience stress for prolonged periods of time, like when we are ill, the body becomes less sensitive to cortisol, triggering a constant, ongoing inflammatory response, which can cause disease. One of the main goals of emotional storytelling is to teach ways to lower the stress response, and, therefore, free a patient to achieve better health. 

When you change your story and remove self-limiting beliefs, you allow yourself to expand your thinking of what is possible: I call this the “what ifs.” Your story is so much more than your struggle. What if your story didn’t have to include so much struggle? What if your story was an amazing one? The “what ifs” is a positive and hopeful mental space that can reduce stress from focusing on what you can't do. And when you lower your stress levels, it not only alleviates an anxious mind, it decreases pain and disease.

For example, I am a patient myself and I find that when I’m focusing on my discomfort and pain, I will tense up, as if I’m holding onto the pain. Sometimes the pain may even increase. Yet, when I allow myself to let go of those negative thoughts, my stress dissipates and the discomfort eventually changes or disappears entirely. This state of mind releases endorphins, a different set of chemical messengers that help deal with discomfort and support positive health actions, and guess what? Hopeful patients with less stress engage more! 

What if in all of our marketing we focused on ways to disrupt the chronic illness mindset and build a new story of health through real, relatable and authentic examples? We have seen it have a dramatically positive effect for both patients and pharmaceutical manufactures. Used on a larger scale, what if we could dramatically change the dialog and health outcomes?

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