In the quest for healing, many people are learning the meaning behind the idea of mind-body connection. Much of what has been discovered stems from ancient methodologies, medicine, and healing practices that the western world is opening up to gradually. These ancient teachings have been lost in our fast-paced society that tends to clamor for the new, shiny thing, but the practices echo what we already know; the knowledge lives in our own intuition.
The philosophy behind mind-body connection is actually very simple and it means that these two seemingly separate things are actually the same; they are interconnected, and one influences the other’s health and fortitude. What we do with our mind affects our body and vice versa. Our mind is present throughout our body.
All of our thoughts can manifest internally and externally, meaning that our mind has a direct link and effect on our health, both mentally and physically. Does this mean if you have a negative thought, you will get cancer? No. It’s not that quick or deliberate, but if your mental state is constantly negative and destructive, chances are it will show up in your health somehow, at least in mental deterioration. But it is also possible that the negative thoughts create certain emotions, which create behaviors that may produce damaging results, such as smoking, drinking, limited sleep, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, etc. that could then develop into more serious or long-term health issues.
This is called a behavior chain. All behavior chains have one thing in common. They start with a trigger. A trigger is a fact, something we can prove. An event or circumstance, something that happened, you saw, you heard, you read, etc., often beyond your control. We may be able to influence them but have no control over them. Triggers produce these things in your brain, called thoughts. Thoughts are the perceptions, meanings, words/sentences we think, say to ourselves or speak, or the questions we ask ourselves. Thoughts can be great, but in the wrong hands, thoughts can be evil. These are thought distortions, a fancy way of explaining how our minds convinces us of things that aren’t really true or trigger a response that is undesired. It all starts here. Thoughts are a catalyst that shift what you believe and how you act and feel. These thoughts ignite your emotions or feelings. You cannot have an emotion without a thought first. If you think bad thoughts, you usually feel bad. If you think good thoughts, you generally feel good. We are driven by emotions; they are the fuel of our behavior. They compel us to act or not act. Both good and bad. Helpful or unhelpful. Your actions pave the path to your beliefs. If you tell yourself something enough or do something enough, you will believe in it. Having complete certainty and belief, builds momentum and shifts your reality, situation, condition, current state, which is your result. Which can also be both helpful or unhelpful, good or bad. Whatever we make ourselves believe, we experience. When you repeat the same behavior over and over again, it eventually seems to just “happen” without any conscious thought. This is a habit, which is a topic for another day.
Scientists would argue, your thoughts are likely a reaction to something around you, a trigger. Triggers can be stressors, environmental, media, government, other people, events or circumstances. Stressors are the biggest triggers. The times we are living in can be stressful. You may be stressed about your health, relationships, work, finances, busy schedules or everything. Stress often causes people to think and behave in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise. Stress is merely a word associated with our physical, emotional or intellectual RESPONSE to a circumstance/event/trigger. Hence the term “Stress Response” also known as “Fight or Flight”. Referring to a physiological reaction that occurs when we perceive something as terrifying mentally or physically. This response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepares your body to stay and deal with the threat (fight) or run to safety (flee). It prepares our body to react to the threat/danger by elevating your heart rate and blood pressure, increasing flood flow to muscles for strength and speed, increasing blood sugar to provide immediate energy, shallow/rapid breathing and dilating your pupils to improve your vision for faster responses. Our bodies become a shield of protection. You can begin to see how your thoughts/mind affect your physical/body thus relating to your pain, symptoms and results. Our bodies were created to only be in this state for short periods of time. However, in today’s environment the past threat of being chased by a tiger has now been replaced by the constant daily stressors which keep many stuck in a constant state of fight or flight which our bodies cannot sustain mentally or physically.
For example, research shows that psychological stress affects our levels of catecholamines, which include the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These neurochemical changes prepare the body to deal with perceived danger (perception is a thought) in a number of important ways. However, chronic elevations in catecholamines suppresses the immune system, and suppression of the immune system raises the risk of viral infection and other disease processes.
So even though the stress response is a normal reaction the body has when change or challenge occurs (stressors), when stressors continue without relief it becomes a problem. Stress responses help your body adjust to new situations and can be positive, keeping you alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. However, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body and physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms develop. Some symptoms and health problems that may arise from long-term activation of the stress response system and overexposure of stress hormones may include muscle/fascial tension and pain, chest pain or feeling like your heart is racing, exhaustion or trouble sleeping, headaches, dizziness or shaking, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, weight gain, jaw clenching, stomach or digestive problems, trouble with intimacy, hormone imbalance, a weak immune system, anxiety, irritability, depression, panic attacks, memory and concentration impairments to name a few.
According to the article “How Your Thoughts Program Your Cells” explains how your thoughts create change at the cellular level. There are thousands of receptors on each cell in our body. Each receptor is specific to one peptide, or protein. For example, when we have feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, excitement, happiness, joy or nervousness, each separate emotion releases its own flurry of neuropeptides. Those peptides surge through the body and connect with those receptors which change the structure of each cell as a whole. Where this gets interesting is when the cells actually divide. If a cell has been exposed to a certain peptide more than others, the new cell that is produced through its division will have more of the receptor that matches with that specific peptide. Likewise, the cell will also have less receptors for peptides that its mother/sister cell was not exposed to as often. So, if you have been bombarding your cells with peptides from negative thoughts, you are literally programming your cells to receive more of the same negative peptides in the future. What's even worse is that you're lessening the number of receptors of positive peptides on the cells, making yourself more inclined towards negativity. Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude.
Every thought you have causes an emotion or feeling which creates neurochemical changes in your mind/body, some temporary and some lasting. This is important to realize because it means that what you think can affect how you feel. And by the same token, if you are feeling poorly, you can change that by changing how you think. Even though we often can’t control the trigger or circumstance. We can control our thoughts and emotions, in turn affecting our behavior/actions and result/state. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine.
For thousands of years, other cultures have known the benefits and the reality of this connection and for decades, science has supported the idea, especially with regard to hormone release and endocrine system function. Through these alone, we know that influences to our emotions have a profound effect on our bodies, whether it’s weight gain, fatigue, or more serious conditions; the body speaks through a psychological response, whether minor or more pronounced. Therefore, it’s important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressors. Stressful events are facts of life. You may not be able to change your current situation, but you can take steps to manage the impact these events have on you and your health.
Mind-body practices such as myofascial release, yoga, tai chi, expressive and conscious dance, acupuncture, breathing practices, massage, meditation, visualization and prayer are examples of increasingly mainstream and popular ways to strengthen the connection between the mind and the body. When we feel safe, our bodies do the opposite; we go into “rest mode” where we can relax, digest, and heal. Another helpful practice to cope with life stressors is journaling, brain dumping or thought downloads.
In general, mind-body connection comes down to awareness. Awareness of your triggers and how you respond. Recognize, Reframe and Repeat. Recognize when you have an undesired feeling or behavior/action. How do you feel physically and emotionally? Maybe you feel pain, tension, shallow breathing, lightheaded, anxious or worried. What action did you take or not take? Then recognize what you are thinking. Begin to notice your thoughts as they come up, simply being aware without judgment. It’s helpful to write them down, this is your thought download or brain dump. Like cleaning a closet, sometimes we have to pull everything out, to see what’s in there. Recognize what is triggering those thoughts. What inputs are you allowing in? We like things to be familiar and like things confirmed so we seek out places and people where we can confirm our beliefs. Be aware of who and what you are listening to, watching, reading etc. What you allow in is your choice. Choose wisely. And finally, what was the result of the behavior/actions? Is it the result you desire?
To increase awareness of your thoughts and words, pause periodically throughout your day/week and note how you are feeling. What thoughts are present at that time? What have you been saying to yourself or others? Write them down and examine if they are serving you. You can’t change what you can’t see. This starts with awareness, taking the time to look and see.
Getting your thoughts and feelings on paper has been shown to relieve pain in many different populations. It can even enhance immune function. James W. Pennebaker, PhD, a leading researcher in the field, recommends writing before bed for a minimum of 15 minutes a day for at least three or four days per week.
The second step is to reframe your thoughts. It’s important not to judge your thoughts but notice them and be aware of them. Every thought is valid. When you recognize thought distortions or thoughts that are not serving you, it’s time to re-write or reframe them before you put them back in your mind. Notice if you think your thoughts are true? If you keep thinking a thought, it will feel like reality and true to you. Therefore, it’s important to STOP and take the time to look. Decide if the thoughts are serving you and if you want to keep thinking them. The power is in your decision as to what you will think and believe. No one can take that from you! Any thought you think is an illusion. You may as well think something that gives you a desired feeling and promotes the action to get the results you want. The final step is to repeat your thought reframes over and over until you believe them, and they become your truth and reality, in turn positively affecting your behaviors/actions creating the results you desire. Recognize, Reframe, Repeat.
Integrative Therapies and Wellness
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-----THIS INFORMATION IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR, NOR DOES IT REPLACE, PERSONALIZED MEDICAL ADVICE, DIAGNOSIS, OR TREATMENT. IF YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS OR QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR HEALTH, YOU SHOULD ALWAYS CONSULT WITH A HEALTH-CARE PROFESSIONAL. THE USE OF ANY INFORMATION PROVIDED IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK. -----