hands of many people on a tree

What works in healing anxiety? Mine and others’? This is the topic I promised to write about in my recent blog post Managing My Anxiety During a Time of Mass Anxiety.

What Cures Anxiety for Me Is Generating the Feeling That Someone Cares About Me

Feeling that someone gives a shit about me is really important to my health and wellbeing. But it’s more than that. It’s also generating the feeling that there is a real connection: that someone not only cares, but also understands. I think that’s the definition of empathy . . . a tricky word. Empathy might not help with everyone’s anxiety, and it’s not the only thing that helps with mine. But for me, it’s a big one. A really big one. Things that help me include the following:

Talking to someone who knows how to listen and empathize and love, and who gets me. This can be a friend, family member, neighbor, therapist, doctor, holistic healer, spiritual leader, acquaintance, or random stranger. But the empathy and connection must come across as genuinely real to me. They can be faking it on their end, but I must not be able to detect it. (B.S. is pretty hard to mask, however. So most of the time it must be real.)

Being physically near someone who communicates empathy and love nonverbally. Six feet away—I have learned in this time of the coronavirus—counts. Talking, aka verbal communication, is optional.

Physical touch from another human being. Hugs, kisses, massages, and sex all qualify. These are, unfortunately, hazardous activities in this time of the coronavirus. At least for people like me who don’t live with (or, let’s face it, even have) a significant other.

Spiritual practices, such as meditation, energy work, and prayer, that make me feel connected to the universe and beyond. Whether I am actually connected to the universe and beyond while engaged in the spiritual practice is irrelevant. The important thing is that I believe I am. Finding something deep within me to believe in helps. Even if it has nothing to do with anything established or traditional. And, after decades of skepticism and doubt, I am finally embracing the fact that I am, indeed, a believer. In something. Perhaps a nontraditional believer, but, yes, definitively, a believer.

Receiving empathy and love through the written word: email, texts, social media, snail mail, and blog comments. These don’t work nearly as well as the above options, but they do have a net positive effect.

Have other people experienced these sorts of anxiety cures? And how are these cures talked about in the media? Let’s take a peek at two articles recently published in prominent, well-respected magazines.

Article #1: A New Yorker Article on the Placebo Effect

The main point of this article is not the placebo effect. But I zeroed in on a discussion of the placebo effect in its first five paragraphs.

The title of this article in the print magazine is “Experiments on Trial.” Online the title is Big Tech Is Testing You. It’s about the dangers of introducing new technologies without testing them scientifically, publicly, and with proper peer review. The thrust of the article is about Facebook and other new technologies, but what caught my attention was the opening gambit of the article.

The opening gambit is about something that happened in the year 1799. Apparently, a company was selling something called Perkins’s Metallic Tractors. These were little metallic rods that, when stroked over patients’ bodies, provided miraculous cures for a wide variety of ailments.

People went crazy buying up these amazing “tractors,” until one man did some experiments. He told patients he was using a Perkins’s Metallic Tractor to cure them, when he was actually using fakes made out of wood and other materials. And the patients continued to be miraculously cured!

This is the placebo effect, right? The dummy works as well as the actual medical treatment. The article intimates that this was a terrible thing. All of these doctors and patients were being swindled by the Perkins company!

But, dude. The patients were cured. Isn’t that the point of medicine? Shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that something worked for these sufferers, these human beings in pain and agony? Who cares whether it’s a tractor or a dummy?

Well, we should care whether it’s a tractor or a dummy for this reason: we must remember that it’s not the object that causes the cure. It’s the human connection between the doctor and the patient. It’s the patient’s belief that whatever the doctor is doing is working. Whatever can stoke that connection, and that belief, is a good thing. And a miraculous thing!

Hey, if a tractor worked on me, I’d be happy to pay this Perkins dude gobs of money. Especially since this particular cure doesn’t come with the side effects of psychiatric drugs. That sounds awesome to me. Where can I find a Perkins tractor practitioner? And is this type of provider covered under my health insurance plan??

Article #2: An Atlantic Article on Reiki

The title of this article reveals the stance of this major magazine, and probably of the greater public: Reiki Can’t Possibly Work. So Why Does It?

“What the hell is Reiki?” you might be thinking. “Sounds suspiciously close to quackery.” Or you might not, actually, be thinking that. You might be thinking, “I know what Reiki is—duh!!” In any case, here’s the definition the article provides:

“Reiki [is] a healing practice codified in the early 20th century in Japan. . . . In Japanese, rei roughly translates to ‘spiritual’; ki is commonly translated as ‘vital energy.’ A session often looks more like mysticism than medicine: Healers silently place their hands on or over a person’s body to evoke a ‘universal life force.’ A Reiki treatment can even, practitioners believe, be conducted from miles away.”

Wow. This definition oozes with skepticism. Why does this author think mysticism and medicine are so very different? In my experience, medicine that’s cold and clinical isn’t good medicine, while medicine that’s administered with an appreciation of the mysteries of life is big-time healing medicine.

Further, why qualify that “practitioners believe” that Reiki can be practiced from miles away? Why not just say that Reiki can work from miles away? This definition seems to miss the point that Reiki is all about making a human connection, using empathy, plus the (spiritual certainly, but also practical and scientific) beliefs of the sufferer to produce a healing response in the body. If empathy and belief can occur from miles away, then so can Reiki.

Like Perkins’s tractor, Reiki works! So, once again, I say, sign me up! I may not be able to find a Perkins tractor practitioner, . . . but there are definitely Reiki practitioners to be found! Is this type of provider covered under my health insurance plan??

Alas, no. My plan will provide me with endless numbers of pills, all free! Pills that work for a few years, and then stop working. Pills that have nasty side effects. But the plan will not pay for treatments that will work for a lifetime, with zero side effects. Except for the financial side effects. . . . Yeah, the main side effect I’m having from visiting holistic healers is the growing hole in my wallet.

But let me stop that rant right there. Let’s move on to this—another sociologically fascinating passage from the article:

“Over the past two decades, a number of studies have shown that Reiki treatments help diminish the negative side effects of chemotherapy, improve surgical outcomes, regulate the autonomic nervous system, and dramatically alter people’s experience of physical and emotional pain associated with illness. But no conclusive, peer-reviewed study has explained its mechanisms, much less confirmed the existence of a healing energy that passes between bodies on command.”

Wait, . . . what?? According to this passage, Reiki works. It helps. It’s measurably effective. Scientifically speaking. So why on earth would we also need scientific evidence that explains exactly how it works, or confirms “the existence of a healing energy that passes between bodies on command”?

We already have scientific evidence that when a person feels empathy from another human being, or from the universe or a spiritual source that they believe in, and when the person believes that someone or something understands them and is transmitting into them good energy—that that’s healing for them. That helps them relax any tensions or trouble points in their body and lets the body do what it’s best at: heal itself.

The author of the article is looking for answers in the wrong places. I do not discount the possibility of “the existence of a healing energy that passes between bodies on command.” We know enough about quantum physics to know that the universe is a very, very strange place.

But just as we don’t need to understand everything about quantum physics to build a quantum computer that works, we don’t need to understand everything about Reiki to know that it works. Hell, it’s not as if we understand the workings of these pills we’re swallowing daily. Delve into that topic, and you will quickly realize that we know next to nothing about how psychiatric drugs work.

Healing During a Time of Quarantine

I have been having phone sessions with my guru healer. These sessions are working for me. The practitioner I see is helping me in multiple ways: She’s helping me manage my diet and the drugs, vitamins, minerals, and other supplements I’m taking. She’s also helping me through energy work, by which I mean something akin to meditation and Reiki and other practices that generate positive vibes and happy chemicals and goodnesses in my mind and body and spirit, while purging all the negative stuff.

This really works. Even over the phone, it works.

Are you in quarantine or self-quarantine? Who cares?! Make that connection. Tele-connect with your loved ones, the ones who really know how to love. Tele-connect with your favorite practitioners, the ones who understand that the universe is more complicated than we often admit, and that what they learned in med school or holistic school isn’t the whole story, the end—but just a very small piece of it. Connect with your deepest self and spirit and whatever you think is beyond, out there in the unknown. And try to love others and give them your best heart and ears and good energy.

If you suffer from anxiety, what works for you? Are you with me in wanting a tractor treatment? Maybe we should start a tractor school for aspiring practitioners; what do you think? Have you ever gotten a Reiki treatment, and did it help? Tell me in the comments!