Have you ever been so stressed out that you got a headache or stomachache? Or your mind was going a mile a minute, so you couldn’t get to sleep?
These are examples of the “mind/body connection”.
Essentially, it’s the way the mind (thoughts and emotions) affect the physical body.
The connection between the two is much more powerful than many people believe. In fact, in the last couple of decades, a lot of medical research has been done to prove the dynamic connection. You may have heard of this healthcare philosophy termed “holistic” medicine. This means that the whole person is treated, (mind, body, and spirit) rather than just their symptoms.
The Science Behind The Mind/Body Connection
Years ago, the general thought about the brain is that it was separate from the body. It was the “command center” that operated apart from the body.
However, research has strongly shown that the brain and the body are significantly intertwined. It shows that our thoughts and emotions can impact plenty of bodily functions, such as blood pressure, sleep, heart rate, and more.
One study investigated whether a mind-body skills group program would help veterans struggling with PTSD. The participants learned and utilized mind-body techniques for 10 weeks to see if PTSD symptoms would increase, decrease, or stay the same.
The research showed that the participants had “significantly” greater improvement in PTSD symptoms. They were less hypervigilant, said they felt less angry, and slept better.
As you can see, the link between our thoughts and emotional landscape and our body is quite strong.
Thoughts, Emotions, And Stress On Health
Back when people lived in tribes in jungles or the desert, living in community was important for survival. If you went off solo, you put yourself in danger of being dinner for some animal. Another important survival mechanism was the “fight, flight, or freeze” response of the nervous system.
If a tiger was approaching someone out there in the desert, the nervous system signaled “danger” and that person either ran, prepared to fight, or froze, as in playing dead. All these survival responses were to help keep them alive.
Today, the nervous system still operates this way, but we don’t typically go about our days wondering if we will be dinner for an animal.
However, we do experience stress at varying levels – especially here in the West where it’s “go, go, go” mode.
And here’s the thing.
When you’re stressing out, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol, which is great if you’ve got a tiger approaching and you need to run to get away.
But many times, we’re not in an actual “dangerous” situation. We’re just thinking we are, and our body starts releasing those two “stress hormones” to boost our energy levels to fight, flight, or freeze.
This may not cause a problem if it only happens occasionally. However:
Experiencing chronic stress can have negative effects on your body.
For example, you may identify as having problems with anxiety.
- You worry about a lot of things.
- You ruminate on the negative things in your past.
- You worry about what might happen in the future.
- You think the world is a dangerous place.
- You don’t feel supported or secure.
As such, your thoughts are having an impact on your body – namely, anxious feelings.
You literally feel anxiety in your body, and it’s caused largely by your thoughts.
Over time, due to a dysregulated nervous system on “high alert”, your body may experience things like:
- Digestive problems
- Slacking immune system
- Anxiety disorder
- Increase in blood pressure
- And more
Essentially, what you think and feel matter in terms of physical health – to a degree. This is actually good news because rather than think you’re just a victim to your health, you now know that you do have some influence in your health.
Mind Body Therapies
There are a variety of mind-body therapies that are helping people learn to rest and regulate their nervous system. This helps them experience better mental, emotional, and physical health. Typically, their techniques, when put into practice, use the link between the mind and body to cause you to experience better health.
Common Mind-Body therapies include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Guided Imagery
- Tai Chi
- Art Therapy
- Music Therapy
Lifestyle And Mental Changes
Most people understand that lifestyle changes can help your health. For example, if you eat a healthy diet and exercise, you decrease your chances of developing diabetes.
But not everyone understands that your thoughts can impact your health too.
Your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and actions can impact your health. This is one reason it’s wise to become a “thought detective”. See what types of thoughts you’re predominantly thinking.
- Are the more positive or negative?
- Do you view yourself more like a victim or a victorious warrior?
Chronic fear can cause a host of mental, emotional, and physical problems. But those that sway toward fear are not without hope. Mind/body therapies can help you learn to rewire your brain from negative to more positive, and make lifestyle choices that decrease fearful thoughts.
Holistic Practitioners & Doctors
There are more and more holistic doctors and practitioners arising all the time. This goes for the mental health field too. If you’re interested in learning more or have an issue you’d like to explore with a professional, do some research on holistic medical or psychiatric professionals in your area. You may also want to explore further the topics of yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and breathing techniques, as these are things you can do right in your living room.
Life may present stressful situations to us, for sure.
- Having to relocate
- Getting laid off
- Grieving the loss of a loved one
- Divorce or relationship endings
- Illness, injury
But we can learn some helpful mind/body stress reduction and healing techniques to help us keep the stress levels as low as possible.
A simple deep breathing technique can be used when you start feeling your anxiety spike. There are MANY breathing techniques to choose from, but here’s a simple one to try out.
Resonant Breathing (Coherent Breathing)
All you do for this type of breathing (stress reduction technique) is sit or lie down and relax.
Inhale slowly for the count of 5 seconds, then exhale for the count of 5 seconds. Do this for a minute or two, or until you feel much more relaxed.
What this does is signal to your nervous system that “it’s alright to let go and relax”. It helps maximize your heart rate variability (HRV), which is an important measure in your autonomic nervous system. Without getting into all the scientific details (which may bore you), essentially a good HRV helps you experience less anxiety.
Your Body Wants To Connect With Your Mind
I’ve had plenty of people tell me “you’re all up in your head” over the years.
That’s because I was.
I spent a lot of time thinking, reasoning, philosophizing, ruminating, etc. I also struggled with high anxiety.
However, the more I learned about the mind/body connection and began implementing techniques that I resonated with, the less anxiety plagued my life. I’d lost the connection between my mind and body, not really wanting to feel emotions or pay much attention to my body at all.
But through educating myself and welcoming this beautiful “mind/body connection”, I’m learning that I don’t have to live with a dysregulated nervous system, on high alert like a tiger is out to make me dinner.
I don’t have to disconnect head from heart, so to speak. And because I’ve embraced lifestyle changes focusing on the mind/body connection, I am experiencing positive results mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
This is my hope for you!