The Mind and Body Connection

Our thoughts and Emotions affect our health.

Meditation an example of the mind body connection

I had to finish the body system series with a newsletter on the connection between the mind and the body. We should all know our own bodies better than anybody else, or at least I would hope that we do. Most of us are even aware of how our body responds physically when we get upset or stressed. Many books have been written on how our thoughts and emotions affect out health. The connection between the mind and the body is strong and it has been proven that interactions do occur between our mind, body and behavior. Many ancient healing systems have also emphasized this connection. It has also been proven that our brain reacts the same way to a situation whether the situation is imagined or actually being experienced. With our brain not being able to determine the difference, each situation leads to the same set of responses which both affect our body. Today, scientific research has been conducted showing that the relationship between the mind and the body is real.

We have come a long way with science since the 17th Century when Descartes drew the conclusion that the mind and body were separate entities, leaving himself to focus on human anatomy and the church to focus on the mind and spirit. For centuries the studies were kept separate until the evolution to today's thinking began. We went from Descartes to psychoanalysis to the discovery of the fight or flight response. We continued with the placebo effect discovered during WW II. Then later, psychoanalysis became psychotherapy which explored the relationship of stress and disease. Self help, positive and optimistic thinking led to the new definition of wellness which meant being well meant more than the absence of disease. Cellular biology and psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) gave us the evidence that the brain does have the ability to send signals to the immune-system cells. These new PNI findings are leading towards a shift in thinking where the understanding of disease has less focus on a particular body system being associated with it. We can definitely say we have evolved - what we think and how we feel about something, affects our health.

So how do your emotions or thoughts affect your health?

Good emotional health is defined as being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It also implies that you have learned healthy ways to deal with stress and the problems of everyday living. One thing I have learned is that bad and good things happen to people and whether something is a good thing or something is a bad thing, it can cause stress. Some of these things might include:

  • Being unemployed or laid off from your job.
  • When a child leaves home for the first time or comes back after being gone a long time.
  • The death of someone you loved - a spouse, a close friend, a sibling or parent.
  • Planning a wedding or dealing with a divorce.
  • Learning to live with an illness or injury.
  • Getting a job promotion and learning new tasks and taking on new responsibilities.
  • Financial problems.
  • Moving to a new home or city.
  • Having a baby or planning to adopt.

So the mind body relationship explores how your body may respond to the above events. When our bodies become stressed, anxious, or upset the fight or flight response kicks in and the body starts excreting hormones which produce changes in the body. Each of us knows how that feels and that our body is definitely telling us something. Sometimes when people are under continued stress they can develop health problems or exacerbate problems they might already have. Hers is a list of some of the physical signs you can have when your emotional health is out of balance.

  • Back pain
  • A change in appetite
  • Chest pain
  • Constipation or Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Achiness
  • Headaches
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Sexual Problems
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Stiff Neck
  • Sweating
  • Upset Stomach
  • Weight Loss or Weigh Gain

If your emotional health is weak your immune system is weak, we discussed that in the newsletter about the immune system and emphasized it again with the new findings through PNI. With a weakened immune system, you are more susceptible to infections. Also, when you do not feel good, you are less likely to take care of yourself so the healthy habits you were trying to create such as food choices and exercise may not be followed.

Improving your emotional health?

My neighbors are the nicest couple and have two wonderful daughters. Some years back, when their youngest daughter left home and it was just the two of them alone after 20 years, it was a big adjustment for them. Every night when I came home from work, the two of them were out in the yard working. One evening I went over and talked to my neighbor and she started crying and said she really missed the girls and she and her husband hadn't really spoken about their own wants and needs since they had the girls. Their conversations were always about the kids, and they were both finding it difficult to transition their conversations back to themselves. The fact that they both recognized what was going on and were able to share these feelings and work on them together indicates good emotional health. Even though your children growing up and leaving is a good event, it still can create stress. So the following are some tips for you to handle things better.

  • Become aware of your emotions and try to understand why you are having them.
  • Try to express your feelings in an appropriate way and let your family and friends know how you feel let them help you if they can.
  • Do not worry or obsess about things, especially if you can't change them.
  • Create positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts.
  • Become resilient. Resilient people are able to cope with stress in a healthier way by keeping things in perspective.
  • Practice Relaxation Methods such as Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, or Deep Breathing.
  • Exercise, it can be a great stress buster.
  • Drink good clean water, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and make healthy food choices. (I know I sound like a broken record, for those of you who remember what a record player is).

I watched a PBS special one day that was about whether or not people have actually died from a broken heart. The doctor on the PBS special said they most certainly have. Patients have come to the emergency room after the loss of a spouse and have shown no physical symptoms that would suggest they are having a heart attack or any type of heart problem, yet that is exactly what is going on. The doctors have watched the patient continue to progress toward death from their grief. The doctor even provided the patient with some treatment that was of no avail.

So, lets become more aware of how we feel, what we think, and how it can negatively affect our body and our health. One of my favorite sayings is

"Life is what you focus on, so focus on something that makes you smile".

Written by Mara Gerke, CA, CNHP, All Rights Reserved.