A nocebo is a harmless thing that causes harm because you believe it's harmful. It's the belief in harm that matters and your mind has control over what it believes. A nocebo spreads from mind to mind, no human contact required. A striking example reportedly happened in a high school in Tennessee. One teacher reported a strange smell in her classroom and started developing symptoms like nausea, headache and had difficulty breathing. These 'symptoms' then began to spread to some of her students which spread to other students around the school. Almost 200 people ended up at the local hospital but no medical tests came back positive nor was anything harmful found at the school. This is the nocebo effect taking place--the belief that the air was toxic and was making students and staff members sick spread from mind to mind. When this happens, it's called mass psychogenic illness. The treatment in these cases separate the ones with these symptoms and reassure them that yes, their symptoms may be real but there was no actual physical or mental harm and they were not exposed to anything toxic.
So what does this mean and why should you care? In past posts I have written about how you can control your entire life solely with your mind. This topic relates to how your mind can affect your health. You are a magnet attracting all things to you. If you have the belief that you are ill, and you begin to really focus on it, symptoms will start to show. If you actually are ill and you start to have the belief that you are healing, or have been healed, you will begin to feel yourself getting better. When you are cured under the influence of a placebo, you are really the one curing yourself. If we can effectively cure ourselves by taking placebo medicine, why don't we just heal ourselves straight away? Why do we need to wait for permission from a sugar pill or a doctor to begin our self healing? Understand your mind and master the art of a thought.
Pain is subjective; if anyone believes that they are in pain and it isn't healing on its own, they will often remain in pain. Pain and nausea are warning signs that something is wrong. Once the recognition of a situation has taken place, pain is only necessary when we forget it. Constant pain, however, induces stress and may be detrimental to the person. With the advent of medications, we have comfortably fell into the habit of reliance on psychological relief to pain or correcting illness through means outside our minds. Contrary to the belief, there might not even be a 'placebo effect' but maybe just a cry for help from the outside world. This is believing that our pain isn't going to heal unless we take the pill. Some haven't mastered their minds, or simply don't know how to do it on their own and they need the strength from something outside of the realms of their own selves. People want attention, they want to be comforted, wanting to feel loved and cared for--this is just another possibility, perhaps reflecting on our modern cultures.
I have experienced this many times and will admit to it. For instance, when I have been sick with a common cold or flu I could lay in bed all day and wait for my body to win the battle between cells and germs. But I truly believe I will not feel better unless I have my mom sitting next to me, playing with my hair and feeding me warm soup. I know it's all in my head, but I will admit, in those circumstances, to being under this placebo effect or this 'cry for help' from my mom. I will not be okay unless I am being comforted, knowing that I am loved and in company of a positive, healthy force.
Supporting the contrary belief, maybe humans just need a force outside of us to help our healing because we don't have the confidence of doing it on our own, hence the reason for placebos. Now nocebos are self-inflicting harm and is caused solely by the mind who created the 'illness.' So is the cure for an individual who is suffering from pain caused by a nocebo effect to be cured by a placebo effect? You're battling an illness you made up in your mind, so you should be cured by medicine that is powered by the belief you will heal, that is made up in your mind. Just something to think about...
Photograph by Kinsey Mhire