The Mind-Body Connection
Nowadays people are more aware of the impact a healthy diet has on their overall health, which is great, however far less is known about the importance of the health of our minds, emotions and thoughts regarding well-being and happiness. Research is slowly revealing more about the mind-body connection and the direct impact the mind has on our body.
Let’s take a closer look on what the mind-body connection is all about. We experience examples of this consciously when we feel butterflies in our stomachs, or when we’re nervous and have sweaty palms and a pounding heart, but it goes much further than that. The beliefs and thoughts you have about yourself, the world around you, your emotions, memories, and habits can all influence our mental and physical health. These connections between what’s going on in our minds and hearts, and what’s happening in our bodies, form the psycho-emotional roots of health and disease.
The mind-body connection happens on both a physical and chemical level. With our mind we experience different mental states; thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions; these mental states can positively or negatively affect biological functioning. Our mind and body are connected through messengers like hormones and neurotransmitters. Because our nervous, endocrine and immune system share a common chemical language (hormones and neurotransmitters), communication between them does occur. For example, the parts of the brain that process emotions are connected through neurological pathways with the spinal cord, muscles, cardiovascular system and digestive tract. This allows major life events, stressors, and emotions to trigger physical symptoms.
The body is actually able to feel emotions. We experience this for example with an upset digestion or stomach ache when we feel fear, and headache when we are stressed or tense. We also experience emotions like anger, jealousy, frustration, guilt, sadness and depression, which can all manifest in the body and create an imbalance in our system. Scientists have even created a map indicating where different emotions can manifest in our body. Similarly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is said that fear is connected to the stomach and jealousy to the gallbladder.
We are far less aware of stuck and repressed emotions, but it is these exact emotions that are usually the ones with the most negative impact on our physical health. A study showed that people who repress their emotions have a higher chance to have disruptions in their stress hormone, cortisol, than people who freely express their emotions. Over a longer period of time these imbalances can cause a change in the way the body functions on a hormonal and immunologic level. This is why we are always warned for chronic (psychological) stress. Several studies show that the changes and imbalances that are caused by chronic stress or emotional trauma can contribute to the development of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Not only directly felt, stuck, and repressed emotions have an effect on our health, but so do our beliefs and whether we have a positive or negative outlook on life play a crucial role in our physical health. Our beliefs sustain our underlying emotional state. If we believe the world is a bad place automatically we will feel more afraid or angry. Feelings of anger, fear and insecurity can lead to a disruption in the natural heartbeat and the (calm) flow of the breath. Very important in this case is the aspect of psychological support. Psychological support is vital for dealing with emotions, and changing beliefs and can reduce depression and inflammation. Again I would like to refer to Traditional Chinese Medicine, in which social connections are highly valued and advised. The Ayurveda, the traditional Indian knowledge about health and wellbeing, also takes this into account.
Another interesting aspect regarding thoughts and emotions, and its influence on our body, is the idea of vibration and frequency. However, this science of quantum-physics is relatively new and unknown (especially in the case of our thoughts, etc.), but it’s slowly becoming more accepted that everything has its own vibration and/or frequency. A very well known study by Dr. Masaru Emoto shows how water changes its molecular structure depending on the vibration of the words which it is exposed to. When we use words of love and gratitude towards the water, it will form beautiful crystals. On the other hand, when ugly words are used the crystals are dull and malformed. Let’s not forget that 70% of our body is made up of water….
Now that some light has been shed on the mind-body connection, and how our thoughts can have a negative effect on our health, we’d like to see how we can adverse negative effects and make our mind work positively for us! What has been mentioned here is the importance of having fulfilling human connections. Another important piece of advice is trying not to suppress emotions, but learning how to accept and deal with them in a healthy and positive way. Also, observe feelings that are coming up when you are daydreaming or busy doing other things. Oftentimes these are the moments repressed feelings can come up. A lot of people experience an improvement in their mental state and health when practicing meditation and yoga, and the positive effects have been showcased in several studies. When meditating, parts of our brain where positive emotions are believed to be seated, the left prefrontal cortex, were more active and in addition swamped activity in the right part, where negative emotions are found!
We would like to dive deeper into this in an upcoming article.