The Importance of Knowing About Mind Body Connections
By: Alexandra DeWoskin
Anxiety, alienation, hopelessness, depression, anger, fear, love, serenity, and optimism are not just feelings. All are physiological states that affect our health just as obesity or physical fitness. People who are more emotionally stressed are at higher risk of becoming sick with serious conditions including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other serious illnesses.
Modern life is filled with stressors that can make us sick. 60 to 90 percent of all doctor visits involve stress-related complaints. As a Chicago therapist, many of the people I work with struggle with these life challenges.
Your body responds to the way you think, feel and act. This is what we refer to as the “mind/body connection.” Sometimes when you are stressed, anxious or upset, your body responds physically to tell you that something isn’t right. For example, high blood pressure or IBS might develop after a particularly stressful event, such as the death of a loved one.
This physiological stress response involves hormones and inflammatory chemicals. The brain, as the source of such states, is a potential gateway to countless tissues and organs including the heart, blood vessels, digestive tract and immune system.
The following events can cause stress and anxiety:
- Being laid off from your job or changing jobs
- Having a child leave or return home
- Dealing with the death of a loved one
- Getting divorced or married
- Suffering an illness or an injury
- Getting a job promotion
- Experiencing money problems
- Moving to a new home
- Having a baby
- Even “good” changes can be just as stressful as “bad” changes.
When your emotional health is unbalanced or weak, it can weaken your body’s immune system, making you more likely to get colds and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should.
You may not feel like exercising, eating nutritious foods or taking necessary medications. Some people turn to unhealthy forms of self medication including abusing alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Below are physical signs that your emotional health is out of balance:
- Back pain, stiff neck or shoulders
- Changes in appetite; weight gain or loss
- Chest pains or palpitations (the feeling your heart is racing)
- Changes in bodily functions including constipation or diarrhea
- Gastrointestinal issues (i.e. nausea)
- Dry mouth
- Extreme lethargy or lack of motivation
- General aches and pains
- High blood pressure
- Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
- Sexual problems
- Shortness of breath
The Good News
Mind-Body Interventions are designed to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect bodily functions and symptoms. There are preventative strategies as well as interventions designed to treat the “whole person” at their physical, mental and emotional levels. People who have good emotional health are aware of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They have learned healthy ways to cope with the stress and problems that are a normal part of life.
They’ve learned to decrease anxiety, decrease pain, enhance sleep, decrease the use of medication, decrease side effects from medical procedures, reduce recovery times and shorten hospital stays, strengthen the immune system and enhance the body to heal, decreased missed work, increase mental alertness, increase sense of control and well-being, feel good about themselves, and have healthy relationships.
The current trend is a synthesis and integration of ancient wisdom with modern science. Treating the entire (whole) person: body, mind and spirit, allows for more favorable medical outcomes especially in the prevention and treatment of many stress-related illnesses.
The American Heart Association recommends that patients being treated for high blood pressure learn to combine their mainstream medical treatments with calming meditation. Mind-body medicine offers a less invasive starting place, which can reduce medical costs while improving health and lives. States of the mind can both suppress and boost immune systems. Even the spiritual aspects of healing cannot be separated from the physical.
How Can You Improve Your Emotional Health
First, try to recognize your emotions and understand why you are having them. Sorting out the causes of sadness, stress and anxiety in your life can help you manage your emotional health.
Express your feelings in appropriate ways. If feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety are causing physical problems, keeping these feelings inside can make you feel worse. It’s OK to let your loved ones know when something is bothering you. However, keep in mind that your family and friends may not always be able to help you deal with your feelings appropriately. At these times, ask someone outside the situation–such as your family doctor, a mind-body coach, counselor or a religious advisor for advice and support to help you improve your emotional health.
Live a balanced life. Try not to obsess about work, school or home. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be happy when you feel stressed, anxious or upset. It’s important to deal with these negative feelings, but try to focus on the positive things in your life too. You may want to use a journal to keep track of things that make you feel happy or peaceful. You may also need to find ways to let go of some things in your life that make you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Make time for things you enjoy.
Develop resilience. People with resilience are able to cope with stress in a healthy way. Resilience can be learned and strengthened with different strategies including having social support, keeping a positive view of yourself, accepting change, and keeping things in perspective.
Calm your mind and body. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, mindfulness, and hypnosis are useful ways to bring your emotions into balance. Meditation is a form of guided thought. It can take many forms. For example, you may do it by exercising, stretching or breathing deeply.
Exercise. Whether a walk, the gym, taking the stairs instead of elevator…it all counts to increase your heart rate and metabolism, lower blood pressure, and increase mental focus!
Biologically Based Therapies. Eating healthy and paying attention to nutrition including substances found in nature like herbs, foods, and vitamins,
Manipulative and Body-Based – manipulation and/or movement of parts of the body. The idea is that illness or injury located in one area of the body can affect all parts of the body. Massage can help reduce muscle tension, relieve stress and soothe pain. Other forms include chiropractic, massage, tai chi, yoga, naprapathy, Feldenkreis, and , reiki (relaxing, nurturing energy therapy where gentle touch assists in balancing your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being while promoting a deep sense of relaxation.
Creative therapies. Art, music, dance.
Take care of yourself. To have good emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body by having a regular routine for eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and exercising to relieve pent-up tension. Avoid overeating and don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Using drugs or alcohol just causes other problems, such as family and health problems