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When given a chance, the mind can be a very powerful healing tool. We don’t understand how incredibly persuasive the mind is and how much the body is affected by the thoughts we have. The thoughts we choose to think and the weight we put into them can redirect our bodies to react to these thoughts.
How does this process work? What are some of the ways our mind influences the body? Here is an overview of the connection between mind and body along with ways to use this connection to your benefit.
How it Works
Dr. James Gordon explains that “the brain and peripheral nervous system, the endocrine and immune systems, and indeed all of the organs of our body and all the emotional responses we have share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another.” In other words, our minds and body are communicating in a common language that causes us to react to certain stimuli in an emotional way.
It’s important to note that the mind is not the same thing as the brain. While the brain is the hardware that allows us to experience certain mental states, the mind is the portion that consists of these mental states like anxiety, depression, joy, or confusion.
Time and again, science has demonstrated that thoughts affect neurotransmitters which are the chemical messengers that allow the brain to communicate with certain aspects of itself and other parts of the nervous system. Neurotransmitters control a lot of the body’s functions which include feeling happy, sad, anxious or depressed. The body interprets the messages coming from the brain directly to prepare us for whatever is expected.
This is why a frightening event may cause our bodies to go into a full-blown panic. Even just watching a scary movie on television causes our neurotransmitters to send a chemical message that sends a message to our bodies to react. Our heart rates rise, our breath shortens, and we may experience a heavy feeling in our chest. Our hands become clammy and the rest of our body experiences a cold sweat. This is how powerful the mind-body connection is-and why our thoughts we choose to think are so incredibly important.
The Placebo Effect
The placebo effect is a powerful phenomenon where a group of individuals experience a positive reaction to a treatment that is not a legitimate treatment. Placebos are used in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of certain drugs. If the group who received a true drug react the same way as the placebo group, then the drug is determined to be a failure.
We don’t quite understand how the placebo effect works but we do know that it involves a complex neurobiological reaction involving dopamine and serotonin, giving the patient a false therapeutic effect. Even though the drug the placebo group takes is fake, they often experience a positive benefit similar to those who receive the actual drug. This demonstrates that if we believe something is going to work, our body believes it too.
There is some scientific evidence to show that our state of mind affects the way we react to illness. Studies have shown that those with a more optimistic attitude are more likely to beat certain illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. One study indicated that those with higher levels of emotional vitality had lower levels of cardiovascular disease and stroke later in life.
On the other hand, those with depression are linked to a weakened immune system and an increased susceptibility to illness. Unfortunately, chronic illness can also induce depression, so this is a double-edged sword. This is not to say that depression or anxiety causes illness, but rather that it can make it harder to fight off.
How to Acquire Emotional Vitality
Developing a new outlook is challenging but it is so helpful in dealing with the regular stressors in everyday life. Here are some tips for improving the mind-body connection.
· Don’t Dwell on the Negative
Try not to dwell on the negative aspects of your life. Instead, focus on what makes your life worth living. Even if you feel like everything is going wrong, there is usually one or two things to be grateful for. Just having a home, good health, or children is enough to maintain gratitude. Work on developing a glass half full attitude.
· Focus on What’s Important
So much of what we worry about is not important. In fact, 90 percent of our negative “what-if” thoughts don’t even come true. And if they do come true, they aren’t usually as bad as we make them out to be. Start focusing on the important parts of your life, not what someone said about you two years ago. Think about what matters: family, friends, health, security. That will help to keep things in perspective.
· Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of staying present rather than living in the past or future. Yoga, meditation, prayer, and other practices can help you develop mindfulness. Slow everything in your life down. Walk slower, talk slower, drive slower, eat slower. Start paying attention to what you are doing in each moment and take joy in the little things. It will help you develop gratitude and perspective about what really matters.
· Keep a Sense of Purpose
Many people feel like they don’t have a purpose in life. Perhaps they are older and no longer working or their kids have grown up and are out of the house. Perhaps you have created an identity out of a certain role and that role is no longer relevant. Find a purpose. Find a new hobby, start a book club, join a charity, get a new job, become more active in your church. Do whatever you need to do to feel like your life matters-because it does.
Do you struggle with anxiety, depression, chronic illness, or stress? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org One of our professional counselors will be happy to speak with you.