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 Watch Your Words 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series

Self-Programming That Heals
If negative messages and images can worsen a condition, doesn’t it make sense that life-affirming messages will help to heal it? This is not just some fantasy. Research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology verifies what folk healers have known for centuries—that thoughts and emotions directly affect the strength of the immune system. The immune system is the first line of defense against disease. If you can strengthen your immune system consciously, through imagery and nurturing self-talk, you have a much better chance of maintaining the health of your whole body.

Imagery and nurturing self-talk are used with great success to control pain. In a study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, many patients suffering from chronic back pain received long-term relief by using a variety of self-control techniques, including consciously slowing down their breathing, creating positive mental imagery, and repeating nurturing self-talk, which reinforced pain-free feelings. Similar approaches are routinely used at pain centers as well as in natural childbirth, surgical preparation, mental rehearsal for sports performances, and even for the treatment of burns.

Man is troubled not by events themselves but by the views he takes of them.

Epictetus, c. 100 C.E.

Motivational programs and stress management courses universally include some sort of training in the use of nurturing self-talk or affirmations. These encouraging sentences are repeated many times in the course of a day, and more often during times of discouragement or stress to counteract the effects of negative thinking, to inspire relaxation, and to build confidence.

You no longer have to be at the mercy of your own illness programming. By becoming aware of it, you will learn whether it is helping you or hindering you. You can then make some conscious choices. It is within your control to design new, healing images and to choose words that will support a healthier inner and outer environment.

Exercises in Reprogramming
Start listening for your illness programming. Learnhow you talk to yourself about whatever you’re doing or not doing. (For example, after sitting at your computer for an hour or so, your lower back may hurt. You might say something to yourself like "Oh, no. I still have that bad back. What a pain. If it’s this bad now, it will be a lot worse when I’m older." These negative tape loops discourage, depress, and almost always disempower you by reinforcing the belief that the pain was inevitable.) Listen also for internal messages of self-deprecation that tell you what you are doing is not good enough, such as "You’ll never win. You’re all wrong. There you go again." For a day or two, write down these messages whenever you notice them. Awareness is the first step toward change.

Create a simple, nurturing affirmation that declares health and wholeness. For instance: "I am growing in strength and self-mastery easily and peacefully." Repeat it morning, noon, and night, and whenever you notice negative self-talk. Design your affirmation to address the issue you most want to change. For example, if you are working on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, your affirmation might state: "I am enjoying the way my body feels when eating fresh foods. I appreciate myself for the care I show in eating more nutritious foods."

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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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