‘You Are What You Think’

We have all heard the saying, "You are what you eat," but it would be just as accurate to say, "You are what you think." One of the most common issues I encounter with patients is negative self-talk. A judgemental internal dialogue filled with negativity and pessimism is toxic to both mind and body.

A large part of Chinese medicine is diet and lifestyle recommendations, in addition to acupuncture and herbal therapies. This toxic internal dialogue falls squarely in the lifestyle section of Chinese medicine and is well understood.

There is a saying in Chinese medicine that there is no separation between the mind, body and spirit. Spirit, in this sense, means interaction with the world around you or your consciousness.

The thoughts that you have are a reflection of how you see the world, how you resolve issues, and how your body will eventually feel or behave. If, from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep, your internal dialogue is defeating, demeaning and degrading, your brain simply takes those as fact, and the body falls in line. Training your internal dialogue to be kind, understanding and compassionate will create a body, mind and spirit that are more at ease, less stressed and more adaptable.

If your internal dialogue is defeating and abusive, your body stays in a stressed state, causing a cascade of chemical reactions that negatively affect your body. Among these are inflammatory agents like cytokine, c-reactive protein and homocysteine. These substances are associated with a host of issues in the body, namely cardiovascular disease. We can literally think ourselves sick.

In addition to the physical effects, negative self-talk impairs our ability to see things in a positive light. Researchers have found that those who have repetitive negative thoughts have trouble seeing their lives in a positive light and have difficulty working out interpersonal issues in a positive way.

In Chinese medicine, this process is extremely well understood. There is a diagnosis of liver depression qi stagnation that can be the beginning of a whole host of patterns of disharmony, or root conditions. Liver depression qi stagnation correlates best to the Western concept of stress. When we are stressed, the liver is depressed. Depressed in this sense means weighed down or stifled, bottled up.

One of the liver’s jobs in Chinese medicine is to course the qi, or the functionality/motive force of the body. When this pattern is present long enough, we often see Depressive Heat form and build up. Depressive heat would best correlate to the inflammatory agents mentioned earlier.

Three steps to changing internal dialogue

Observe: Not only what you say, but the tone.

Objectivity: Take a thought and objectively analyze it. Is it the truth? Is it accurate and unbiased?

Reframe: Now that your attention is on your internal speech, you can start to reframe your thoughts in an objective way. This isn’t about being delusional, rather about rephrasing your words and tone to something positive and action oriented.

An example would be the thought "I am so dumb, I will never get this." First, you observe the harsh and demeaning tone. Next, you objectively analyze the thought. Does it seem accurate? Do your life experiences support being dumb and never learning new things? Unlikely, so we know it is exaggerated. Last step is to reframe. Take the phrase and say it differently. Perhaps, "Well, that way didn’t work, but I have another idea," or "I like to challenge myself and will try again."

Getting started

Try an experiment! For the next week, observe your internal dialogue. Do you like what you hear? Would you permit someone to speak to you that way? Taking the effort to reflect will pay off! Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you.

Tracy Zollinger is a licensed acupuncturist and owner of Island Acupuncture in Alameda. She also provides advice on herbs and nutrition. Find out more by calling 299-0057 or visit IslandAcupunctureAndFertility.com.