When you're ill or in pain, taking time to look at your habits, diet and attitude may provide insight into what ails you.
"Clearly, the more active you become on your own behalf, the more likely you'll do well," says James S. Gordon, M.D., director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., and author of "Manifesto for a New Medicine." "Thinking about your illness, what may have caused it and what you can do to speed your recovery, may minimize your need for drugs and surgery because doing so maximizes your capacity for helping yourself."
The following tips may help you move faster from diagnosis to recovery by using your mind to get more involved in your care.
Strive for self-awareness
Heredity and infections cause many illnesses. But some conditions are part psychological, part behavioral, and people often play more of a role in causing health problems than they realize.
Asking yourself questions can help you get at the root of a health problem and on the road to recovery. Start with: How did this condition come about? Is there something going on in my life that could be causing it?
If you suffer from chronic neck pain, for instance, there may be a connection between your pain and the way you sit hunched over your desk all day.
Look at your diet
Take a close look at your diet and eating habits as the next step in the process. An unhealthful diet can cause many health problems, including diabetes, chronic heartburn, heart disease and general malaise.
"Many people eat too much and are overweight as a result," Dr. Gordon says. "And, there's increasing evidence that obesity predisposes you to a variety of illnesses and that maintaining a healthful weight can contribute to longevity."
There are also some common foods many people are sensitive to, such as coffee, milk and red meat, as well as food additives and preservatives.
"Depending on your symptoms, you might consider eliminating these foods for a while to see if your symptoms diminish," Dr. Gordon says. "As a general rule, I suggest people who want to eat more healthfully include large quantities of fiber-rich raw fruits and vegetables in their diets, as well as a morning helping of wheat and oat bran."
Focus on the possible
If you're diagnosed with an illness, take steps to learn about it, including the range of symptoms and outcomes.
"The dominant mode in traditional medicine is to focus on the disease and all the terrible things that might happen," Dr. Gordon says. "If you're diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, for example, you would be told it's degenerative and that, in most people, the disability worsens and becomes permanent.
By accepting this prediction, the disease and your fears about it can take over your life."
As an alternative, stay focused on the best possible prognosis instead of the worst-case scenario.
You may also want to investigate alternative treatments. "If you do some research, you may find a treatment that will at least be a complement to your conventional therapy," Dr. Gordon says.