Over the last few decades, modern medicine has begun to embrace the connection between mind and body.
So could your emotions be making you sick?
As it turns out, you’re more prone to getting sick when you’re feeling down.
Believe it or not, stress from poverty and childhood trauma can damage white blood cells and weaken the immune system. (1)
But that’s just the beginning…
Before long, dangerous illnesses can come knocking at your door.
Let’s take a closer look at the intimate connection between body and mind:
What Is the Mind-Body Connection?
The mind-body connection is the two-way street between your mental and physical health.
In a nutshell, your psychology affects your risk for health problems, and these same health problems can also affect your mental health.
On the surface, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the connection runs deeper than you might think.
Will the mind-body connection be a positive influence or a destructive force in your life?
The choice is yours!
How Strengthening the Mind-Body Connection Can Help You
Enhancing the mind-body connection can boost chemicals that help with:
A strong mind-body connection means less sick time, increased alertness, and shorter hospital stays.
The best part is that most of the techniques for strengthening the mind-body connection can be done in the comfort of your own home.
Believe it or not, even your posture can affect your mental well-being and physical health.
The Difference Between the Mind and the Brain
Before we get too far along, it’s important to define the difference between the mind vs. the brain.
The brain is the “hardware” that gives life to the mind, which consists of the thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and beliefs that shape the human experience.
When the brain and body are in tip-top shape, the mind is free to create and soak in the beauty of the world.
The History of the Mind-Body Connection In Medicine
Up until the 17th century, almost every medical system in the world believed in a deep connection between the mind and body.
It wasn’t until Western doctors started analyzing the body like a machine that this began to change.
The Western approach certainly has its benefits when it comes to surgery and pharmaceuticals, but it also comes at a cost.
Downplaying the mind’s ability to heal is a serious matter.
According to James Lake, M.D. of Stanford University, “Extensive research has confirmed the medical and mental benefits of meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, and other mind-body practices.” (2)
It’s time for modern medicine to return to its holistic roots.
How the Mind-Body Connection Works
Every experience that you have, whether emotional or physical, shares a common chemical language.
For example, when you experience pain, the body produces feel-good chemicals called endorphins, and these endorphins impact your mood.
At other times, the brain produces chemicals like gamma globulin that strengthen the immune system.
On the flip side, psychological stress can boost hormone production and disrupt digestion.
Your human ecosystem is one big feedback loop of mind and body, and at the center of this loop is stress.
Stress and Its Effects on Health
On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressed are you on a daily basis?
Believe it or not, you might be more stressed than you even realize.
The mind, body, and brain can get so used to chronic stress that it becomes your new baseline.
Even if you rate yourself a 3, your stress hormone production could still be a 5 or higher.
But what exactly does this mean for your health?
Short-term Effects of Stress
Your blood pressure increases, the heart beats faster, and your muscles tense.
This physical reaction is part of the fight-or-flight response.
In the short-run, it sharpens your reflexes and increases your chance of survival during an attack.
However, if your body never calms down, it can cause a long list of health problems.
Long-term Effects of Stress
When stress becomes chronic, it can affect your hormones, digestion, immunity and brain chemistry.
To begin with, the stress response is controlled by the release of certain hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
When you’re always making stress hormones, the body eventually runs out of hormone-production power.
Gradually, this can lead to hormone imbalances throughout the body.
For starters, lower levels of testosterone and estrogen can decrease sex drive.
However, that’s just one of several side effects.
It can also slow the thyroid: one of the most important hormone glands in the body.
This can leave you feeling tired all the time.
Where chronic stress really does damage, though, is in the gut.
Cortisol has a knack for inflaming the gut lining.
The gut plays a key role in mental health, and this is largely because it protects the body from inflammation.
In healthy individuals, the gut lining prevents inflammatory bacteria, pesticides, and other toxins from entering the bloodstream.
However, cortisol eats away at the gut lining, which is only a single cell thick.
Once inside, inflammation can lead to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and autism. (3)
The Gut-Brain Connection
You’ve probably used the phrase, “Trust your gut,” or “I had a gut feeling about this.”
Or when you’re nervous, you’ve said that “there’s a pit in your stomach.”
Why do so many phrases link the brain to the gut?
Because the microbiome in your gut actually functions like a second brain!
In fact, the gut’s nervous system evolved first and is actually the body’s original brain.
The gut contains more nerve cells than the spinal cord (200-600 million to be exact) and has a big impact on stress. (4)
Bacteria in the gut play several roles.
For starters, they reinforce the gut lining.
At the same time, gut bacteria communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve.
As your bacteria processes nutrients, they also produce neurotransmitters like serotonin as byproducts.
These neurotransmitters talk to the brain and depending on your gut bacteria they can make you more anxious, calm, or depressed.
It all depends on which strains of bacteria thrive, and that comes down to a combination of diet, lifestyle, and genetics.
Unfortunately, the Western diet is full of foods that hurt healthy gut bacteria.
Later on in this article, we’ll cover which foods to avoid and which to eat more of in order to support the gut-brain connection.
Childhood Trauma and Disease
Domestic abuse. Sexual Assault. The death of a family member.
Traumatic experiences like these can trigger chronic stress.
According to Andrea Roberts, a research scientist at Harvard’s School of Public Health, these events can trigger long-term physical reactions. (5)
In fact, early trauma can increase the risk of:
Traumatic childhood events can include:
Substance abuse within the household
Incarceration of a household member
Mental illness in the household
Witnessing domestic violence
When it comes down to it, traumatic events can push your immune, neurological, endocrine, and digestive systems over the edge.
To make matters worse, victims often turn to smoking, drinking, and drugs to cope.
Smoking, by the way, is one of the single-most inflammatory activities you can do to the body.
It inflames and rapidly ages the cells.
Plus, it makes them more likely to mutate and become cancerous.
In fact, inflammation is the root of most diseases, and smoking is one of the quickest ways to increase stress and lower your quality of life.
Of course, these habits only add to the negative effects of chronic stress.
In the end, childhood trauma can speed aging.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to overcome trauma, reduce stress, and strengthen the connection between body and mind.
9 Ways to Create a Healthier Connection Between Mind and Body
Mind-body therapies, like meditation, and lifestyle changes, like exercise, can return the stress response to a healthy state.
It might not happen overnight, but you can slowly reduce chronic stress one change at a time.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Not only does it boost feel-good neurotransmitters, but it also reduces cortisol and adrenaline. (6)
The more you do it, the more control you’ll have over your impulses.
In fact, research shows that meditation can even be an effective treatment for addiction. (7)
At the same time, meditation can help anyone improve focus and reduce anxiety.
With that said, developing a meditation practice is often easier said than done.
2. Deep Breathing
The health benefits of deep breathing can be profound.
For starters, breathing exercises reduce stress hormone production.
When you breathe deep, the organs apply pressure to the vagus nerve, which plays a central role in the stress response.
By improving the tone of the vagus nerve, deep breathing reduces stress.
Say goodbye to overactive cortisol and adrenaline!
Deep breathing also alkalizes the blood and reduces inflammation.
It’s a one-stop-shop for strengthening the connection between mind and body.
3. Living Authentically
Nothing cuts through the fog of regret, stress, and depression-like embracing your authentic self.
Most peoples’ lives are full of compromises, but if you don’t make time for your true heart’s desires, negative emotions can start chipping away at your health.
Are you a hippie-at-heart but you work a corporate job?
Reconnecting with your childhood dreams is an inevitable part of long-term health.
4. Talk Therapy
Talk it out!
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy that’s used to treat a wide variety of mental health problems.
You may think that you know how you truly feel, but the mind has a way of burying its feelings.
Saying them out loud can bring them to the surface where you can face them head-on.
CBT can help you:
Resolve relationship conflicts
Learn better ways to communicate
Cope with loss and grief
Overcome past trauma
Reduce chronic pain
Develop techniques for handling stress
Opening up to a therapist can be scary at first, but if you want to accelerate your personal growth, it’s worth taking the leap.
5. Regular Exercise
The body was made to move and your lungs were made to breathe.
In fact, just the simple act of walking is proven to boost cognition.
Plus, exercise releases endorphins, reduces stress, and balances hormones.
The best part is, you don’t have to become an exercise junky to experience the benefits.
Amazingly, a single session of yoga can significantly boost GABA in the brain! (8)
Not into yoga?
Just 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day, three days a week is all it takes.
6. Listening to Music
Music has a direct line to your emotions, and you can use it to promote well-being.
Are you feeling stressed about life?
We can all remember a time when a song turned your frown upside down, and at least 26 different studies show that music can help treat depression. (9)
Not only that, but music can also greatly improve the mood and memory of Alzheimer’s patients. (10)
Who knew that shaking your booty could be so good for the brain?
Listening to music has a host of health benefits, but dancing takes it to another level.
Besides, dancing is just plain fun.
In a 2015 study published in the journal Frontiers In Psychology, dance movement therapy (DMT) reduced symptoms in patients with chronic depression. (11)
However, you don’t have to enroll in a formal course to cut a rug.
Just throw on your favorite music and get down!
If you’ve always been too embarrassed to dance, even by yourself, you’ll be shocked at how good it feels.
Now get out there and dance!
8. Establish a Morning Routine
Take all these healthy habits and turn them into a morning routine.
Once the day gets underway, it can be all too easy to come up with excuses to skip meditation and exercise.
Your morning routine can be a micro-sized version of all of your most important practices.
30 minutes is all it takes to pack in a short meditation and a quick exercise routine.
If you really want to go all-out, toss some gratitude journaling into the mix.
But more than anything else, a morning routine will empower you with a sense of discipline—a feeling that’s priceless as you take on the day.
9. Gut-Friendly Foods
You are what you eat. Mind, body, and brain.
There’s still a lot that science has to uncover about the gut-brain connection, but one thing is for sure: what you eat has a major impact on your mental health.
First and foremost, you’ll need to ditch the sugar and cut back on the carbs.
Sugar and carbs are fuel for bad gut bacteria and are linked to anxiety, autism, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Besides, even if you aren’t at risk for the above conditions, sugar and carbs are still inflammatory.
Dairy, coffee, and alcohol are also on the naughty list.
With that said, there are plenty of anti-inflammatory foods to chow down on, including:
Healthy fats like coconut and olive oil
Wild-caught salmon and sardines
Dense, leafy greens
Almonds, macadamia nuts, and Brazil nuts
Probiotic supplements are also great for strengthening the gut and brain.
In fact, a 2017 study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that patients with irritable bowel syndrome and depression experienced improvements in both after taking probiotics. (12)
With the right diet and lifestyle choices, you can fortify the connection between mind and body.
Over time, these changes can reduce stress and heal the gut.
If you have any more questions about the mind-body connection, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.