What is the mind-body connection?
Your mind and body are powerful allies. How you think can affect how you feel. And how you feel can affect your thinking.
An example of this mind-body connection is how your body responds to stress. Constant worry and stress over jobs, finances, or other problems can cause tense muscles, pain, headaches, and stomach problems. It may also lead to high blood pressure or other serious problems.footnote 1
On the other hand, constant pain or a health problem like heart disease can affect your emotions. You might become depressed, anxious, and stressed. And this could affect how well you treat, manage, or cope with your illness.
But your mind can have a positive effect on your health, too. Having a positive outlook on life might help you better handle pain or stress. And it can help you stay healthier than someone who is less hopeful.
How do your thoughts and feelings affect your health?
Your brain produces substances that can improve your health. These substances include endorphins, which are natural painkillers. And there's gamma globulin, which strengthens your immune system.
Research shows that what your brain produces depends in part on your thoughts, feelings, and expectations. If you're sick but you have hope and a positive attitude and you believe that you'll get better, your brain is likely to produce chemicals that will boost your body's healing power.footnote 2
Negative thoughts and emotions can keep your brain from producing some of the chemicals that help your body heal. But this doesn't mean you should blame yourself for getting sick or feeling down about a health problem. Some illnesses are beyond your control. But your thoughts and state of mind are resources you can use to get better.
How does stress affect you?
When you are stressed, your body responds as though you are in danger. It makes hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster, and give you a burst of energy. This is called the fight-or-flight stress response. If the stress is over quickly, your body goes back to normal and no harm is done.
But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have bad effects. Long-term stress can make you more likely to get sick, and it can make symptoms of some diseases worse. If you tense up when you are stressed, you may develop neck, shoulder, or low back pain. Stress is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Stress also harms your emotional health. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer, and you may not do well at work or school.
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Healing Body and Mind
Finding your mind-body connection
We all have different ideas of what it means to feel well. Try this thought exercise, and focus on your mind-body connection.
- Think a moment about what it means to feel unwell.
Maybe you have a health problem. Or maybe your mind is troubled in some way. Either of these struggles can make life harder. And they can leave you feeling unwell. Ask yourself:
- In what ways have you felt unwell in your life?
- What problems of the body or mind can make you feel unwell?
- Now focus on what it means to feel well.
It could be about your body or mind feeling healthy and whole. It might be some combination of the two. Ask yourself some questions about feeling well.
- How do you feel when you are well?
- What balance of physical and mental needs are being met when you feel well?
- Find your balance.
- When you feel fully well, is there also a physical and mental part to feeling satisfied and engaged?
- When you are physically unwell or your stress level is high, how can mental wellness help you?
Some people also consider spirituality as part of their mind-body wellness. You can use these same steps to think about wellness across your body, mind, and spirit. For example, ask yourself:
- What problems of the spirit can make you feel unwell?
- What needs of your spirit are being met when you feel well?
Ideas for mind-body wellness
Here are some ideas to help your mind-body wellness.
- Relax your mind and body.
Try one or more of these techniques to help you relax:
- Deep breathing. This is one of the best ways to lower stress. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body.
- Guided imagery. It's a technique in which you imagine yourself in a setting that helps you feel calm and relaxed.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction. This technique focuses your attention on things that are happening in the present moment. The idea is just to note what is happening without trying to change it.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. This involves tensing and relaxing each muscle group to reduce anxiety and muscle tension. If you have trouble falling asleep, this method may also help with sleep problems.
- Yoga. It includes breathing, meditation, and exercises, called postures or poses, that stretch the body.
- Add laughter and humor to your life.
Laughter and humor make life richer and healthier. Laughter increases creativity, reduces pain, and speeds healing.
- Build resilience to help you cope.
Being resilient means you're able to bounce back from tough situations or problems.
- If spirituality is important to you, tend to your spiritual wellness.
Spiritual wellness can bring comfort and lend strength for handling life's challenges.
- Building Resilience
- Healing Through Humor
- Spirituality and Your Health
- Stress Management
- Stress Management: Doing Breathing Exercises
- Stress Management: Doing Guided Imagery
- Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Stress Management: Practicing Yoga to Relax
- Stress Management: Relaxing Your Mind and Body
Current as of: June 24, 2023