Throughout millennia, the connection between mental and physical health has been pondered and debated by healers all over the globe. Today, this same powerful connection is being recognized by science as a factor that directly affects health outcomes, whether emotional, spiritual or behavioral. Research is focused in a new field, that of mind-body medicine and the findings show clearly that emotions and thought patterns can contribute to imbalances in the body. Therapies such as visual imagery, meditation, yoga, and biofeedback are being employed to restore and promote health and re-establish balance.
“The beliefs you hold about yourself and the world, your emotions, your memories, and your habits all can influence mental and physical health. These connections between what is going on in your mind and heart, and what is happening in your body, form the psycho-emotional roots of health and disease.” Jennifer Weinberg, MD, MPH, MBE Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine Physician and Author
There is a direct physiological connection between the mind, (where mental states including thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions reside) and the chemical responses that occur in the nervous, endocrine and immune systems that use hormones and neurotransmitters as the “language” to communicate between the mind and body.
This is how it works in one arena: The parts of the brain that process emotions are connected to the spinal cord, muscles, cardiovascular system and digestive tract via neurological pathways. It is this connection that allows stressors, emotions or major life events to set off physical symptoms. Think about feeling nervous and experiencing “butterflies in the belly” or your heart pounding hard when you’re in a stressful situation.
It is the intersection of these systems that create the mind-body connection, which in turn influences health or disease. Anger can easily trigger stress hormones that can suppress the immune system and lead the way for infections or even cancer to develop.
The Powerful Impact of Vibration
Our bodies are made up of atoms and water, both of which are in motion constantly, creating a type of wave energy that influences their structure and function.
In a very well-known study done in Japan by Dr. Masaro Emoto two different mediums, water and rice, were exposed to words and music, both positive and negative. The results were stunning as the effect of these vibrations caused physical changes to the water and rice. If words have such a powerful effect on water, it behooves us to consider the effect of words on our bodies and in our health, especially since we are comprised mostly of water.
Your Body Has Feelings
We are aware that negative emotions can have a profound effect on our bodies. Fear can contribute to digestive upset and stress can produce a migraine. Other negative emotions like anger, anxiety, resentment or depression, can manifest disease or other forms of imbalance in the body.
The experience of various emotional states produces physiological sensations in different parts of the body. A map of emotions has been created by scientists to indicate where different emotions are activated on the bodies of study participants. This connection goes in two directions: they affect the way you behave and the physiology within your body and, the way you perceive these body reactions influences your emotions.
Emotions that are repressed or stuck can be especially harmful to physical health. Studies show that people who suppress their emotions are more inclined to experience imbalance of cortisol (the stress hormone) compared to those who are able to freely express their emotions. Compounded over time, the net result contributes to both the development and progression of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Your Beliefs Can Make You Sick
Hopefully you can now see how the mind-body connection – that is the way you think and feel and the deep-seated beliefs you hold – can all lead to the development of disease. Left unexplored and unresolved, they create a subliminal sense of anxiety, depression or anger that has the potential to disrupt your body’s natural healing mechanism.
A very common expression of the interaction of belief and physical sensations is in the case of chronic pain. Essentially, pain is a combination of the physical sensations, your emotions around the pain and the meaning the pain has for you. They all share similarities in their neurological pathways. This is seen played out in people who lack social support. These very people are more likely to have heart (and other) problems than those with supportive relationships: conversely, when people with cancer experience a decrease in symptoms of depression, their chance at survival increases.
It’s important to have support to deal with emotions and change beliefs. Having the right kind of support can help with the reduction of symptoms of depression as well as the physiological response of inflammation.
Healing In All Areas
In order to heal and prevent disease, it’s important and necessary to combine physical, spiritual and emotional modalities. Thankfully, there are a variety of mind-body approaches that are designed to help you process your emotions, change your habits into lasting behaviors and gain physical wellness, like the ones I teach in my Habit Change Program.
Toxins that are built up in the body through toxic emotions can be dealt with by remaining present and aware. By learning strategies to help you pay attention and identify emotions that come up, process those emotions and find a plan of action to deal with them, healing flows in all areas.
There are a few ways to effectively express, experience and process your emotions. One way is to talk them out with someone you can trust. Or, you can write your thoughts and feelings and share them with a trusted person.
Meditation is a very wonderful and valuable mind-body practice for mindfulness that helps to modulate emotional responses. The Eastern arts of yoga, breathing practices and Tai Chi are both physically and mentally healing.
On the Western front, hypnotherapy and biofeedback have proven to be very useful in addressing mind-body issues.
All of these amazing tools help to increase body awareness and help to gain control of the mind-body connection in order to create an internal environment that promotes health rather than disease.