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May 16, 2023

The Mind-Body Connection

by Loryn Jones, MSW, LCSW

Have you ever felt so nervous that your legs began to shake, or your voice began to tremble? Have you ever been so excited that you weren’t able to sleep? How about being so worried that you couldn’t eat? These are all so common and are all examples of our mind and body connection and evidence that our emotions impact the way  we physically feel or respond.

The mind and body connection is the communication between your thoughts, attitudes and behaviors and your physical health. I don’t know about you, but I have spent a lot of time thinking my brain and physical body were operating as two separate systems. Science has revealed the hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) associated with emotions have physical effects. It affects our blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns and overall health.

Impact of Stress

Stress is a common part of human vocabulary. However, do you understand its science and impact? The body releases two hormones when stressed: adrenaline and cortisol. This is referred to not as the dream team, but the stress team! Their purpose is to give us a short-term energy boost (or rush), so we can get out of a dangerous situation. Our brain will interpret stress such as dishes in the sink, being late to work, planning a wedding, or meeting a deadline as a threat. Once the brain perceives the situation as a threat, it goes into a stress response. You may be thinking, “I don’t feel in danger when I think of these things, I just feel stressed!” We may logically be able to tell the difference; however, our brain interprets them as the same thing!

Once we get into what is referred to as chronic or consistent stress and these hormones are released frequently, there are long-lasting physical impacts such as migraines, stomach pain, back pain, weakened immune system, digestive issues, healing more slowly, and overall brain function. Stress seems to interfere with cognition, attention and memory.

Impact of Relaxation

Relaxation is often used in the human vocabulary as something we wait to do such as relaxing on the weekend or when we get off of work. I would like to support you with shifting this perception and provide more opportunities to relax throughout the day. Relaxing has many physical benefits. During our relaxation response, our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism all slow down. The flow of blood increases around our body and gives us more energy. Our minds will often feel clearer, supporting positive thinking, concentration memory and decision making. When these physical things occur in our bodies, our minds tend to feel more in control, and we often feel refreshed. The challenge tends to be we often associate relaxation with an escape from our daily routine. So, how can we support our bodies if we can’t just go on vacation and get away?

Healthy Mind-Body Connection Tips

Recognize, Don’t Ignore!

  • When you feel a physical sensation in your body, tightness, tingling, temperature change, cramp, stomach pain, recognize it and take a moment to explore it.

Stop and Be Curious/Explore (1-2 min)

  • Take 1-2 moments to just take a breath and focus on the part of your body you feel the sensation in and ask yourself a question.
  • What am I focused on right now that may be causing increased stress?
    • Don’t focus on how you are lacking or all that you have on your plate at the same time. This leads to being overwhelmed.

Listen and Reframe

  • Your body is talking to you and warning you that whatever you are doing and focused on is causing your brain to feel a threat. If the threat continues, your body will go into a stress response.
  • Take a moment to reframe the situation into something less intense or pressured to reduce the threat.
    • How can I think about this differently in this moment to reduce this tension?
    • Avoid phrases such as, “have to”, “need to” and “or else.”

Ok, sounds simple, right? No, it takes practice! These steps are not complicated, but we will often override our warning signals and push through the threat because we tell ourselves, “I don’t have time for this.”

When we don’t see the value in managing our mind, our bodies pay the price!

I encourage everyone reading this to explore to understand how your thinking has impacted your physical health. Do you have headaches, stomach aches, cramps, back pain, shoulder pain? Do you feel tired, have challenges focusing, completing tasks and making decisions? If so, you can get support you with exploring your mind and body connection. This is a skill and takes time and practice.

If you are interested in learning more strategies about your mind body connection, please reach out to our Behavioral Wellness team, so we can provide you with psycho education and strategies. Let us be your coach!

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