When a person is injured, ill or otherwise suffering physically, mentally or spiritually, it is in our nature to send that person heartfelt well-wishes. Whether it is by word, action or even thought or prayer, from our heart to theirs, we hope for healing to take place.
While these sentiments are well intended, do they really work? And if so, what does science have to say about it? Can one heart heal another? And when several hearts are reaching out, is the healing more powerful?
To find out, we must first look at how our hearts work. What is the function of the heart?
Well, aside from providing us with life-sustaining, and healing blood that is continually being filtered and cleansed, the heart has two main systems that control the rate at which each heart beats. There’s the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Each system or branch is part of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system.
As we know, the autonomic nervous system regulates our internal organs and some of our muscles. And because this system is involuntary and controlled by reflexes, we are often unaware of what is happening until it happens. Things like breathing, digestion, heart rate, and blood pressure are all part of the ANS.
For instance, the sympathetic nervous system, also known as, your “fight or flight” response, kicks in when you are faced with a stressful situation, such as a bear chasing you. Either you fight the bear or you run away. When this happens, your SNS is called into action, increasing your blood pressure causing your heart rate to go up, and your digestion to slow down.
Then there’s the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest" and "digest” response that is present in non-emergency situations. When our body is not stressed, or does not need to perform a challenging task, it rests.
That’s all fine and good, but how does that relate to healing?
Stress is a good thing when it’s necessary, such as being chased by a bear or preparing for a race. However, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, pressures at work, and family difficulties, keeping your body in a constant state of stress. And when this happens, your body cannot utilize the parasympathetic nervous system in order to rest and heal.
In fact, studies published in the US National Library of Medicine have shown that short-term stress boosted the immune system, but chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that ultimately manifest an illness.
Simply put, your PNS needs to be activated in order for your body to heal.
So, how is it possible for well-wishes, good thoughts and a good old heart-to-heart to heal someone who is suffering?
Well, just think about how you feel when someone tells you that you are loved. Think back to a time you received a card or an email letting you know that you are being thought of in your time of need. Did it cause more stress, or did it relax you? Did you feel like running away or taking it easy and enjoying the moment? Was your sympathetic nervous system or parasympathetic nervous system activated?
Good thoughts. Good vibes. Well wishes. Prayers. All of these things promote healing by activating the most healing part of your body: the parasympathetic nervous system of the heart.