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What is the Placebo Effect?

We’ve all had those days. You know the ones -- the days when we wake up in the morning, and everything just feels right. You feel energized, the sun’s gleaming down just beautifully, and the whole world holds promise.

And then there are the other days. Maybe you didn’t get the rest you needed, or maybe life just feels a little bit more difficult. And on these days, you can’t help but wish you could just manufacture a little bit more sunshine.

Of course, going back to bed with the hope you’ll awake on the right side of it, is usually pretty unrealistic. But luckily there are simple ways you can turn your day around, and one scientifically proven way of doing so is through a little self-care with the help of the placebo effect.

Yes, we did say the placebo effect. But hear us out!

So What Is the Placebo Effect?

Defined simply, the placebo effect is the phenomenon in which a fake treatment is issued to a patient in the hope that the patient’s reaction alone will improve their condition. But it’s really not that simple.1

Recent studies have indicated that a placebo can send a powerful message to the brain, which in turn generates powerful real results in the mind and body.2

Professor Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, whose research focuses on the placebo effect describes it this way: "The placebo effect is more than positive thinking — believing a treatment or procedure will work. It's about creating a stronger connection between the brain and body and how they work together.”3

In fact, this connection can be so strong that one study published in 2016 about the placebo effect in treating chronic lower back pain found that the placebo can have a positive effect even when the patient knows they’re taking a placebo!4

Other studies have shown that the placebo effect can even be present outside of medicine. In a study conducted by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, the psychologist analyzed the physical fitness of hotel maids.5

Despite the vast amounts of physical labor required of them by their jobs, they reported not identifying as having active lifestyles and their bodies reflected their perceptions accordingly. However, after Langer and her team set about educating one group of the maids as to how many calories each of their tasks were burning, those maids started to become notably more fit. Even just acknowledging the work they were doing with their bodies changed the way their bodies looked and felt.

Harnessing the Power of Positivity and Placebo

While the placebo effect is still a mystery in some ways, its positive powers have been well documented. So, how can you harness its effects in your daily lives?

You can create your own placebo effect by making a conscious effort to perform rituals of self-care, including but not limited to taking several meditative deep breaths throughout the day, drinking that extra glass of water, and taking vital supplements to support your body and mind.

Essentially, by consciously taking care of yourself in that moment, you’re sending an important message to your body and mind that you want to be healthy. And, remarkably, your mind and body listens to that message. So, in a way, your own body has provided you with a way to help turn the day around. Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

In the wise words of author and speaker Seth Godin, who wrote this insightful article about the placebo effect, “a placebo is the story we tell ourselves that changes the way our brains and bodies work.”

So when you’re telling yourself that positive story as you drink that extra glass of water with some potent vitamins and herbs, and maybe take a few calming deep breaths, you’re effectively setting your mind and body up for a better day. When you’re taking real, valuable steps to care for yourself through supplements, exercise, or meditation, you’ll reap the benefits of these rituals in addition to the placebo effect as you continuously send your body the messages of positivity and self-care!

Daily Rituals to Increase Your Wellness

The placebo effect is more than just positive thinking. It’s developing a ritual that provides your brain and body with valuable signals to increase your overall wellbeing. So where do you start?

Practice Breathing Techniques

Breathing with intention, following specific patterns, can help calm anxiety and bring awareness. One popular method is that of Dr. Andrew Weil called the 4-7-8 method . For this method, you breathe in slowly for four seconds, then hold the breath for seven seconds, and breathe out slowly for eight seconds. Give it a try while thinking positive thoughts for your day!6

Take the Right Supplements

No matter what issues you’re trying to address, there’s likely a supplement that supports healing. Whether you have chronic pain, anxiety, migraines, or high cholesterol, the power of plants can be harnessed to your benefit -- and the power of placebo will follow!

Sit Down Less Throughout the Day

Studies show that even just standing for eight minutes every hour and moving around for two minutes can greatly improve your health. For great suggestions on how to achieve this, check out this article from CNN.7

Regardless of what self-care rituals fit your needs and lifestyle best, the evidence is pretty clear -- making small efforts to improve your overall health can yield big rewards, sometimes even much bigger than you’d anticipate from the ritual alone. So next time you find yourself having a bit of a bad day, just take a step back, remember how to harness the power of the placebo, and give yourself a few moments of genuine self-love and care.

Do you have any suggestions for keeping your mind and your immune system in tip-top shape? Connect with us on Facebook and share. We'd love to hear from you.

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7. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/06/health/how-to-move-more/index.html