Experts Call For More Mind-Body Medicine to Combat Stress-Related Illness
In a new commentary published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, experts in mind-body medicine call for broader use of stress-reduction practices, such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness, in patient treatment plans and medical research.
The authors of the paper include researchers from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the University of California (UC) Davis Health.
Researchers have found that excessive and persistent stress are major contributors to disease and mortality. For example, stress tends to worsen anxiety and depression and also plays a role in conditions such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches and chronic pain, according to lead author Dr. Michelle Dossett of UC Davis Health.
“By reducing the body’s stress response, mind-body practices can be a powerful adjunct in medicine by helping to decrease patients’ symptoms and improving their quality of life,” said Dossett, who was a physician and researcher with the Benson-Henry Institute when the perspective was written.
Dossett also noted that these mind-body practices can be helpful in reducing stress related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Despite its recent rise in popularity in the last few years among the general public, mind-body medicine isn’t new, even in the West. Researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute have been integrating the field of mind-body medicine into MGH’s clinical care, research and training programs since 2006.
Early studies on the advantages of these holistic approaches dates back more than 40 years, when the institute’s founder and senior author of the commentary, Dr. Herbert Benson, became one of the first Western physicians to bring spirituality and healing into medicine and is most famously known for his work with the Relaxation Response.
“The Relaxation Response,” Benson has stated, “is an inborn, anti-stress capacity that transcends the differences that separate mind from body, science from spirituality and one culture from another.”
At the Benson-Henry Institute, mind-body medicine is widely recognized as the third leg of a three-legged stool: The first leg is surgery, the second is pharmaceuticals and the third is self-care, in which patients learn techniques to help improve their own health through mind-body medicine, nutrition and exercise.
“Western medicine has produced revolutionary health benefits through advances in pharmacotherapies and procedures,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
“It now faces enormous challenges in battling stress-related noncommunicable diseases. …Chronic pain, often perpetuated by psychosocial stress, has become an epidemic that our pharmaceutical arsenal is poorly equipped to handle and medical costs continue to soar.”
“Mind-body therapies can be a helpful adjunct in managing chronic pain and other stress-related noncommunicable diseases by fostering resilience through self-care,” they write.
The new paper also addresses the preconceived notions of skeptical patients regarding mind-body medicine as well as the anticipated barriers of service coverage and clinician education on the appropriate use of these tools. These challenges further emphasize the need for continued research and investment into the development and implementation of personalized practices to maximize their public health potential.
Benson and co-author Dr. Gregory Fricchione, who is the Benson-Henry Institute’s current director, lead the field of mind-body medicine and research on counteracting the harmful effects of stress, thereby promoting health and reducing the vulnerability to stress-related illnesses.
Pedersen, T. (2020). Experts Call For More Mind-Body Medicine to Combat Stress-Related Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/04/13/experts-call-for-more-mind-body-medicine-to-combat-stress-related-illness/155628.html