How to Think Yourself Well

What's Really Making You Sick?

That's when I narrowed it down to two questions I would ask patients at their appointments: "What do you think might lie at the root of your illness?" and "What does your body need in order to heal?" Occasionally, they answered with conventional health-related insights, saying, "I need an antidepressant" or "I need to lose 20 pounds." But more often than not, they said introspective things, like "I hate my job," "I need more 'me' time," "I must divorce my spouse," "I have to finish my novel," "I need to hire a nanny," "I need to make more friends," "I need to forgive myself," "I need to love myself" or "I need to stop being such a pessimist." Whoa.

While many patients weren't ready to do what their intuition told them their bodies needed, my bravest patients made radical changes. Some quit their jobs. Others left their marriages. Some moved to new cities or towns. Others pursued long-suppressed dreams. The results these patients achieved were astonishing. Sometimes, a list of illnesses would disappear, often quickly. Even smaller steps, like talking to a boss about workplace problems or seeing a marriage counselor, helped. I was in awe.

But I shouldn't have been surprised: I had healed myself in much the same way. By the time I was in my 20s, I had been diagnosed with multiple health conditions, including high blood pressure and precancerous changes on my cervix. At 33, I was burned out, thanks to my career in a busy obstetrics and gynecology practice. I wound up leaving my job, selling my house and liquidating my retirement account. My husband, baby and I moved from chaotic San Diego to a small, sleepy town in Northern California, where I spent two years digging into the root causes of my illness, diagnosing what needed to be changed and mustering up the courage to take action. As a result, my health conditions either completely resolved or drastically improved.

12 Ways We Sabotage Our Mental Health

The Get-Well RX

This is not "woo-woo" metaphysics here. The scientific evidence I have uncovered in major medical journals backs this up: The lifestyle choices you make can optimize your body's relaxation response, counteract the stress response and result in physiological changes, leading to better health. The body doesn't fuel how we live our lives. Instead, it is a mirror of how we live our lives. So if you're not feeling well, despite doing all the "right" things, take a deep breath and ask yourself: What do I think might lie at the root of my illness? What does my body need in order to heal? If you're honest with yourself, the answers could save your health—and your life.

Adapted from Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin, MD (Hay House, May 2013). Dr. Rankin is a physician in Marin County, Calif.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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More from Health.com:

What Doctors Don't Tell You (But Should)

Depressed? 12 Mental Tricks to Turn It Around

Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

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