The mind-body interaction - how it affects your health and wellbeing.

You’re juggling multiple priorities – things feel overwhelming.

You’re working to deadlines, you’ve got ever increasing commitments – personal and professional – and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

And just when things couldn’t get any worse… You get sick (… with the cold that has been making its way around the workplace, or the bug that’s being passed from child to child at day-care).

You’re congested, bed bound, riddled with pain, unable to function as you normally do.

You feel angry, agitated, defeated, sad.

We’ve all been there.

There is no denying it – our body and mind interact in powerful ways to affect our health and wellbeing.

The experience of pain and discomfort in our body, illness or disease, can impact our state of mind, influencing how we think, feel and act. In a similar way, the state of our mind– for instance, feeling worried, stressed, or depressed - can trigger physical reactions that lead to pain and discomfort in our body, and can even contribute to the onset or aggravation of an illness or disease.

Although mainstream science and healthcare practices tend to study and treat the body and mind as separate entities, increasing research and evidence-based practices support the idea of a two-way relationship.

  • Negative emotional states - anxiety, anger, sadness, stress - are  associated with unhealthy behaviours, such as poor diet, smoking, excessive drinking, physical inactivity, and social isolation, which are the same lifestyle factors that contribute to the most widespread illnesses: heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, addiction, dementia. 
  • The way we think about stress can influence our health – for instance, if we think “stress is bad” we are likely to experience more negative health outcomes than those who think “stress is good”.
  • The stress associated with having to give a presentation can double the severity of allergy symptoms for two days.
  • Feeling sad makes symptoms of illness seem more severe and cause greater discomfort.
  • Sustained negative emotions such as stress, depression, and anxiety can lower our immunity and affect other bodily functions – which means, compared to people who experience more positive emotions, we’re more likely to become sick after exposure to a virus.
  • Positive emotions are associated with a range of health outcomes, such as reducing ill-health symptoms, reducing pain, and increasing longevity.

There is a type of therapy – called Mind Body Therapy – that harnesses this two way relationship.

This therapy uses techniques – like meditation - that focus on thoughts and emotions to create changes in the body. The benefits of meditation are many, including:

  • Improving hypertension (or high blood pressure)
  • Improving cardiovascular disease
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving immune system functioning
  • Improving cellular aging
  • Reducing pain

This therapy also uses techniques – like intentional breath regulation – that are centred on breathing and physical movements to create changes in psychological states. By consciously engaging the diaphragm, the practice of slow-paced, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and inhibits the sympathetic nervous system (our “fight, flight or freeze” response), which creates a relaxation response and decreases stress. Studies show that deep breathing can lower depressive and anxiety symptoms and promote emotional wellbeing.

Although our understanding of how the body and mind interact is still fairly limited, the two-way relationship is undeniable. Modern science has advanced what we know about the body and the mind, but in a way that seems to focus on one or the other. Increasing research and evidence-based practices support the idea of a two-way relationship and urge us to take a more holistic approach for enhancing our wellbeing.

 

 

References

How Your Negative Emotions Can Literally Make You Sick | by Marc Brackett, Ph.D. | Elemental (medium.com)

Exploring the Mind-Body Connection Through Research (positivepsychology.com)

How Meditation Improves Emotional and Physical Health | Psychology Today