What is the Mind/Body Connection?
The term “mind/body connection” refers to the way your body responds to the way you think, feel, and act. Stress, anxiety, emotional distress can cause negative physical symptoms that signal that your emotional health may be out of balance.
The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has more than 40 years of research that proves the effectiveness of how practicing mind/body medicine can help reduce the stressors that cause or worsen conditions such as heart disease, infertility, chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune conditions (such as lupus), and many more.
“Dr. Benson has long described health and well-being as a three-legged stool. One leg is drugs, the second is surgical procedures, and the third is self-care.”
Mind Body Medicine is considered the self-care leg of this ‘stool’. The following make up this mind/body connection piece:
- The relaxation response
- Positive coping strategies (cognitive behavioral therapy)
- Physical activity
- Social support
How can emotions affect physical well-being?
Some of the emotional, behavioral and mind signals of a lack of mind/body balance can be seen in the illustration below. Can you relate to any of them? In which area(s) are you most affected when feeling stress?
Your body responds to the way you feel, what you are thinking, and your actions. There is a direct connection between your mind, body, emotions and behavior and your stress levels. Here are some of the physical signals that stress is causing your mind/body to be out of balance:
- Back pain
- Change in appetite
- Chest pain
- Digestive problems
- Dry mouth
- Extreme fatigue
- General aches and pains
- High blood pressure
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Increase in heart rate
- Sexual problems
- Shortness of breath
- Stiff neck
- Weight gain or loss
*Dr. Stacey Bzowy suggests that you during times of prolonged stress or trauma, i.e. divorce, death of family member, worrisome financial hardship, etc., it may be advisable to visit your medical provider to evaluate how the situation is affecting your health status for the above listed symptoms as well as the following:
- Increase in blood sugar
- Increase in cholesterol
- Increase in blood thickness and clotting
- Fluid retention
- Altered immune function
“These physical effects are normal and are the body’s way of helping a person deal with the issues at hand. This process is known as “the fight or flight response” and is necessary for our survival. For example, if a person is involved in a car accident, this stress response will occur and specific hormones will be released to slow their bleeding, keep their heart functioning and supply an increase in sugar to maintain brain function. After the trauma, the hormone release will slow dramatically and the body’s functions will return to normal and all is well. This response is meant to be a short-lived reaction. When stress is constant, the body’s resources are depleted and its ability to adapt is lost. If stress continues and remains unattended for a long period, coping functions will be compromised and illness will result.” -Dr. Stacey Bzowy
How do you achieve balance and build a stronger mind/body connection?
Stress is a fact of life for everyone, but if you have a chronic illness (like lupus) you may, understandably, be under even more emotional stress than the average person. It’s been said by someone wise, “You cannot choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you handle it.” With that little nugget of wisdom shared, you may be asking, “So how do I better ‘handle’ my stress levels?” First decide if you are out of balance. Here is a great and fun tool to figure out how strong your mind/body connection is. Take this is quick 11 question quiz!
The first step to achieving balance is learning to identify what stresses you, pay attention to the signs that you are feeling stressed, and learn how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in times of stress.The mind/body connection method encourages individuals to take personal control of their lives, using strategies that reduce stress and help eliminate other negative behaviors and thoughts, and thus maintain or regain more optimum levels of health.
Some of the tips that may be helpful in achieving a mind/body balance are:
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet
- Get regular gentle exercise
- Get plenty of sleep, take naps when needed
- Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, tai chi, or yoga
- Focus on healthy friendships and relationships
- Have a sense of humor, laughter is the best medicine
- Seek professional counseling when needed
Click here if you would like to try an exercise from beliefnet.com that has 8 steps to improve your mind/body connection.
The largest payoff for learning to manage stress, regain emotional and physical balance is peace of mind and perhaps even a lessening of severity in your undesirable physical symptoms.
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*Dr. Stacey Bzowy is a licensed naturopathic physician and the owner of Riverstone Integrative Medicine located in Tualatin, Oregon. Living with lupus for over 17 years led Dr. Bzowy to dedicate her practice to treating chronic diseases utilizing both conventional and naturopathic therapies. Stacey celebrates her good health with kayaking, hiking with her dog, Violet and educating others on how to achieve optimal health. Find her at www.riverstonemedicine.com or at www.FB.com/drbzowy.
*All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at [email protected] for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Molly’s Fund Fighting Lupus.
**All resources provided by Molly’s Fund are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns.