Today, most people know that our states of mind can affect our bodies, and that our physical health impacts our emotional health. But for many of us, the details are a bit fuzzy. Let’s take a look at a few facts that really show the importance of a holistic approach to taking care of yourself.
The Mind-Body Connection
Both depression and anxiety disorders may often present symptoms such as back and joint pain, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and insomnia.
Physical symptoms are a complaint of at least 80% of individuals dealing with anxiety or depression.
Chronic stress can damage the body in a variety of ways: It can prolong the healing of wounds, increase the frequency of upper respiratory infections, and aggravate existing medical problems. Stress raises blood pressure, disturbs heart rhythms, and worsens angina, for example. It may also affect the digestive system and cause or aggravate ulcers, acid reflux and other gastro-intestinal problems.
Why Do Your Emotions Affect Your Body?
If you are feeling particularly stressed or upset, your body tries to let you know that something isn’t right, often through physical symptoms. Unexplained pains, for example, are often a clue that your mind-body connection is out of sync.
Secondly, poor emotional health has been shown to weaken your immune system and invite infection or reduce the body’s ability to fight off disease. This opens the door to many potential health problems.
Finally, if you are feeling chronically anxious or depressed, you are more likely to neglect your health—not exercising enough, eating poorly, missing doctor’s appointments, or abusing alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
How Can Your Improve Your Mind-Body Connection?
Following are a few tips:
- Start by brining your medical professional into the loop. While you might not feel comfortable discussing personal problems with your physician, he or she needs to understand your total health picture. In treating physical symptoms, your doctor needs to either rule out emotional causes or assist you in ways to improve your mental health.
- Next, pay attention to what your mind and body are telling you. If you’re feeling sad or over-stressed, acknowledge those feelings and begin to explore possible reasons for such feelings. Often you can pinpoint recent events that may have contributed to negative emotions.
- Learn to express your feelings, rather than turn them inward. Keeping feelings trapped inside can lead to physical problems, so find appropriate ways to express them. Talk to loved ones, keep a journal, or seek professional help if you need additional support or direction.
- Become a more resilient person. Emotional “toughness” can actually be developed in all of us. Rely more on social supports (isolated people are more emotionally vulnerable), develop a positive view of yourself to boost your self-esteem, and work on the difficult lesson of learning to accept change.
- Seek a more balanced life. Don’t focus exclusively on areas that give you the most problems, such as your stressful job or your rebellious teen. Focus on positive aspects of your life, deal constructively with problems that you can control, and work on letting go of things in your life that are stressing you but outside your control. Schedule time in your life each day for things that you enjoy.
- Take care of your physical health. Develop and maintain a routine for getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, and getting regular exercise – walking is a particularly effective stress reducer. Avoid the temptation to numb your pains through overeating or abusing alcohol or drugs.
- Keep your mind and body calm and relaxed. One wellness expert refers to this process as “taking yourself offline.” Just like a computer needs rebooting, you need some down time as well. Learn and practice some type of relaxation technique, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. If time and money allow, indulge in a vacation or a spa retreat --whatever takes you out of the daily stresses of your life. Even a few minutes a day of clearing the mind and relaxing can lead to significant health benefits. Meditation, for example, has been found to reduce stress hormones in the body and bolster the immune system, when practiced regularly.
So perhaps it's time to begin your own self-inventory and consider ways to put your mind and body in sync. They'll both thank you for it!
[Medical facts provided by Freedom from Fear, NIH Medline Plus and Family Doctor.org.]