Making the Mind Work for the Body

By Alexis McNamee, Senior Account Executive — May 25, 2016

If, like me, you’ve ever taken melatonin to help you sleep, eaten sauerkraut purely for the probiotics, or even sat in on a yoga class to de-stress, then you too are an “alternative medicine” consumer. And according to the latest National Health Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you’re not alone; as of 2012, about a third of U.S. adults have used a complementary health approach — such as acupuncture or a special diet – in the past year.

Today, alternative medicine goes by a new name: mind-body medicine (MBM). Defined as the practice of focusing on the relationships among the mind, body and spirit to achieve and maintain good health, MBM is becoming more and more mainstream. Yoga studios, meditation centers and supplement shops have invaded almost every town. It’s hard to refresh a social media feed without seeing a new post about the latest MBM craze — from aerial yoga to eating clay, the options in alternative medicine are endless.

But MBM isn’t just the focus of the “Instagram famous.” From the doctor’s office to our own desks, payers, healthcare providers and employers all have a stake in our mental and physical health, and they’re paying attention to MBM.  Thousands of hospitals and conventional doctors’ offices across the country now extend MBM services to their patients. Prestigious medical schools offer MBM training and certification. Even the National Institutes of Health have established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The biggest shift in MBM awareness may be happening within the workplace. Companies are starting to offer mind-body programs to their employees; some have created wellness centers at the office, others train their employees on meditation, encourage exercise or promote healthy eating through awareness campaigns. They understand that productivity is directly linked to employee wellbeing and mental health.

Why is MBM gaining such traction? Because evidence suggests that it works, at least in part by relieving stress and its harmful physical effects.

Anyone who has ever been “stressed out” knows first-hand the physical toll stress can take — headaches, upset stomach and chest pain, among others. And yet it wasn’t until the past few decades that conventional “Western” scientists started to prove what their alternative “Eastern” counterparts had known for millennia: the link between emotional stress and chronic, even deadly, diseases is very real.

As a result, we see alternative medicine making its way more and more into treatment programs for a variety of diseases. According to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “mind body programs treat patients with a combination of relaxation response techniques, proper nutrition, exercise and reframing negative thinking patterns.”

Recent research has shown mind-body medicine is much more than sleeping soundly at night. Clinical studies have shown the effectiveness of MBM interventions on a wide range of chronic medical problems that are caused or worsened by stress, including Crohn’s disease. And according to the National Institutes of Health, mindfulness-based stress reductions have been proven to benefit patients with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and fibromyalgia.1

What do the increased awareness of patient agency in their health and the increasing role of MBM mean for those of us in the communications industry? MBM will increasingly change the way PR and communications teams strategize, construct and implement healthcare communications campaigns around the world, encouraging PR practitioners to think more holistically about our recommendations and to recognize that our audiences likely invest deeply in their own health.

As the rift between alternative and conventional medicine continues to shrink and the demand for MBM grows — bringing new challenges and changes to the healthcare ecosystem — PR practitioners need to stay informed of the latest trends, remain alert to new regulations and strive to be strategic in effectively including MBM elements to their communications campaigns. Plus, with our tight deadlines and busy workloads, most of us PR practitioners could probably use a little yoga and meditation.