Body language can change your life


Today’s prompt: Watch the video, Your body language shapes who you are. How do these concepts apply to migraine and headache disorders?

As I watched this video, I thought about our experiences with doctor’s appointments. This is the migraine equivalent to a job interview. So many of us experience anticipation anxiety in the days and hours leading up to an appointment. We make lists of issues we want to address. We play out the entire meeting in our brains over and over, imagining every possible scenario.

We want to be taken seriously, to be believed. How best to accomplish that can twist us into an anxious knot and render us incapable of speaking effectively. We never consider our body language yet our unconscious mind will pick up on subtle cues in the body language of our doctor and his staff. We will react, experience emotions, and make assumptions based on this non-verbal, subconscious communication.

Think about how you must appear while waiting your turn at an appointment. What does your body language say? How many times to we sit there hunched over, arms crossed, maybe even with our head in our hands?  We instinctively position ourselves in vulnerable position in the hopes that the doctor will see our misery, have mercy on us, and finally agree to help. These body positions are termed “illness behaviors”. Some doctors respond well to this body language, while others resist us.

If you’re not getting the results you need from your doctor, it might not hurt to try a different approach. Practicing “dominant” body language for a few minutes before the appointment might help improve your confidence. All that anxiety slows down your thinking process and makes it more likely you will forget everything you need to say. So, rather than sitting in the waiting room hunched over, try standing up straight, shoulders back, chin raised.  Smile with your eyes — even if they are hidden behind sunglasses.

This isn’t about convincing other people that you have confidence. It’s about readjusting the chemicals in your body so you can relax and accomplish your goal. The video explains that by changing our body language we can actually alter our body chemistry, increasing confidence and reducing stress.  The speaker claims that clinical studies back up her assertion.  She’s right.

The older way of viewing medicine is to see the body as a machine that can be repaired, with parts that can be replaced. In many parts of the country this is still the dominant view. This is the reason that when doctors are unable to find a physical cause for our complaints, they will sometimes resort to suggesting we seek mental health treatment. This view of medicine believes that in the absence of a physical explanation for pain, the cause must be psychological — that the mind is a separate entity from the body.

Recent advances in neurology show that this view is false.  However, it will take time for everyone in health care to catch up. Some may never make the switch.  But you can make the switch. By understanding that our thoughts, emotions, beliefs have a physical basis just as much as digestion, heart rate, pulmonary function, reproduction, and muscle function.  They can’t be separated.

One day health care will not separate mental health as a second-rate discipline without scientific backing.  That day is much closer than you might think. By understanding this, you can improve the way you and your doctor communicate, even if he or she is stuck in the last century.

Take some time to watch the video. My comments just don’t do it justice.  You’ll see what I mean.  When you’ve finished, come back here and share your impressions.

The 2014 Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, is dedicated to Dreaming of a World without Migraine and Headache Disorders. The 2014 Migraine and Headache Awareness Month Blog Challenge is a project of American Headache & Migraine Association.

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