The Mind-Body Connection
Our mind-body connection is far more powerful than we realize. Our thoughts influence our emotions, our psychological well-being and the way we experience the world around us. Even when we imagine future situations or visualize potential outcomes, our bodies physically respond to those thoughts.
Think of how you react when someone cuts you off in traffic and nearly causes an accident. The incident may only last a moment, but, in that instant, your body prepares for the potential negative outcome. The stress triggers a surge of adrenaline, your body’s hormonal response to a fight or flight situation. Your physical reaction isn’t limited to a release of adrenaline though. In that instant of fear that you may be hurt or your car damaged, those alarming thoughts can trigger your body to experience all types of physiological responses. You may have changes in your blood sugar, blood pressure and heart rate and chemical alterations in your brain. These changes can be harmless, or, over time, they can be detrimental to your health.
Mind-Body: The Placebo Phenomenon
What is a placebo?
The definition of a placebo is “a harmless or inactive pill, medicine, or procedure prescribed more for the psychological effect on the patient than for any physiological effect”. Placebos are usually used in evaluating new medications to see whether the effect of the medication is psychological or physical.
In 2013, a study was conducted on 270 patients looking to alleviate severe arm pain. Half of the subjects received “acupuncture” treatments, and the other half received “pain-reducing pills”. Some side-effects experienced in both groups included an increase in pain, sluggishness, swelling, and redness. Both groups found relief with treatment, but those who received acupuncture reported feeling even better than the group that did not receive this treatment. However, the study was not designed to measure the effectiveness of acupuncture versus pain pills. The “acupuncture” needles had retractable shafts that never actually pierced the skin, and the “painkillers were made of cornstarch”. The study was meant to measure the power of placebos. It illustrated that just because the patients thought that a harmless procedure or pill would cause side effects, it did. Also, because they thought the same inactive procedures or pills would help, their condition improved.
Imagine! Even without any actual treatment, the body still reacted according to what each patient thought or expected. Of course, you cannot think yourself better to remove a tumour or cure a virus. But researchers have found that the power of the mind can have a physical impact when it comes to pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even some symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Our brain chemistry is also influenced by those around us. In another study conducted at the University of Turin Medical School, 100 students went on a trip to the Italian Alps with the researcher Fabrizio Benedetti. Shortly before the trip, Benedetti told one individual in the group that the thin air may cause migraines. A few days passed, giving the rumour time to make the rounds to one-quarter of the travellers – all of whom experienced horrible headaches. Saliva tests on the “socially-infected” individuals also revealed low oxygen conditions beyond what was expected.
Now, apply that study to our everyday lives and how gossip and social media influence can negatively impact our thoughts. What happens when family and friends fuel your negative expectations, worries, and doubts? It makes things worse, doesn’t it? And what about the opposite – what happens when your loved ones surround you with warmth and encouragement? It feels amazing and makes life’s challenges feel less difficult. These are examples of the mind-body connection in action.
Embracing positive social support makes a positive difference in your health!
Change your thoughts. Change your life.
Play along for a moment and allow yourself to take in a long conscious breath.
Feel how the air moves through your body as you inhale and exhale and try to clear your thoughts. Imagine the air flushing out all of the negativity in your body and mind.
Now take another full deep breath. And another. One more.
How do you feel? Did time slow down a little? Did you enjoy a brief moment of calm or peace?
If only we lived breath by breath instead of task-by-task. Our to-do lists will never be empty, so we must schedule time in our day to reconnect with ourselves. We may feel like finding time to meditate is beyond our control. It isn’t. And the results are worth it!
Spending a moment in meditation each morning is one of the best things you can do for your health and well-being. Even if only for ten minutes, it is a time investment that you’ll never regret. By starting your day on the right track, it makes it that much easier to get yourself back on track whenever life goes off the rails.
The Benefits of Meditation
- Meditation deepens your self-connection on a physical, mental and spiritual level.
- Meditation helps to release suppressed emotions by giving you space to reset.
- Meditation enhances our overall health and well-being by increasing positive emotions and improving immune function.
Studies have also shown that when we work on our emotional awareness and self-compassion, we can experience a healthier response to rejection, improve eating behaviours, and effectively manage weight loss.
Feel like meditation is a little too woo-woo for you? Science supports this practice. Check out the following studies on the benefits of meditation:
- The use of a community-accessible mindful awareness practice intervention resulted in improvements in sleep quality at immediate post-intervention, which was superior to a highly structured sleep hygiene education intervention. Formalized mindfulness-based interventions have clinical importance by possibly serving to remediate sleep problems among older adults in the short term, and this effect appears to carry over into reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Apr;175(4):494-501. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081.
- Stress reduction was observed in several types of meditation. After meditation, hormonal orchestration modulates effects in the central nervous system and in the body. All types of meditation are associated with blood pressure control, enhancement in insulin resistance, reduction of lipid peroxidation and cellular senescence, independent of the type of meditation. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2014 Jun;18(3):137-43. doi: 10.1515/hmbci-2013-0056.
- Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function. Adv Mind Body Med. 2017 Fall;31(4):10-25.
These are just a drop in the bucket from the multitude of studies showing widespread health benefits from meditation. Busy lives create an “always on”, “go-go-go” mentality that is in direct opposition to the effects of meditation. Taking the time to meditate or at the very least take 5 deep, cleansing breaths, all the way into your belly and all the way out at least once per day can have significant health benefits.
No matter your struggle, success always begins with a positive frame of mind. Perspective is everything.
A few key points to remember…
1. Stress is not inherently negative – it all depends on how you look at things. If you perceive something as a threat, then your body responds accordingly and your health will deteriorate. However, if you simply use the mind-body connection to change your mindset from seeing things as a threat to a challenge, then you enhance your health!
2. Emotions are only energy in motion. Instead of thinking of your emotions as a hindrance, consider them the currency required for the motivation to change. Unresolved feelings don’t atrophy or disappear – their dammed-up energies accumulate. Like an untreated health condition, if your emotions are allowed to fester inwardly, they will eventually cause physical conditions and behavioural issues.
3. Both negative and positive emotions left unresolved will deplete your body’s immune system. Acknowledge your feelings and learn how to manage them effectively. Managing emotions leads to balance in the body, a centred mind, and a spiritual connection. Remember, if there are no peaks or valleys, you’re not really living.
Do you find yourself entrenched in negative thought patterns? Do you think some of your health concerns might be related to your outlook on life? Let’s discuss and see if we can uncover the triggers behind your health issues and develop strategies to overcome them together. Contact us at Forces of Nature and we’ll start working on bringing you back to your best.
Call or email us at 416-481-0222 or Info@ForcesofNature.ca.
To your best health!
The Team at Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic – Naturopathic Doctors, Chiropractor, Osteopath, RMT’s, Registered Dietitian, Acupuncturist/TCMP, Craniosacral Therapist, Psychotherapist