Although we may think of our body and our mind as separate entities, both are intertwined by multiple systems. Although mental health and physical health are often treated separately, it is useful for our health and well-being to understand how closely they are linked. The mind-body connection is the knowledge of how your mind influences your physical body and how your body influences your mind. Understanding the mind-body connection has many health benefits.
WHAT IS THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION?
The mind-body connection describes how our physical body is influenced by psychological factors and how our physical body affects our mental state. This connection can be seen at the level of human physiology, as many different bodily systems connect the mind and body. The nervous system plays an important role in this link. Physical pain, detected by sensory receptors in the skin, is transmitted by nerve fibers and then processed by the brain. It, therefore, works through the body-mind connection.
In addition, this link is found in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the body’s response to stress, the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response shows how emotions such as fear, stress, and anxiety can cause physical effects such as rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and more. In addition, constant high levels of mental stress and anxiety can manifest in physical effects and conditions such as stomach ulcers, headaches, fatigue, and pain.
Can a physical body influence our mental state?
The area of the brain called the hypothalamus plays a major role in the mind-body connection, as it connects the endocrine system and the nervous system. It is an area of the brain that helps maintain homeostasis, that is, the balance of the body. The endocrine system secretes hormones that play a role in communication between mind and body. Stress hormones are important for regulating the stress response, hormones that regulate hunger cues, and hormones responsible for many other body functions.
Conversely, research shows how our physical body can influence our mental state. For example, nutrition and gut health has a big on mental health. Mental stress and anxiety can also be linked to negative symptoms in the digestive system. Finally, physical posture is linked to positive and negative emotions, feelings, and confidence.
HOW MEDITATION IMPROVES THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION
Meditation can contribute to a better awareness of the connection between mind and body and provide mental and physical health benefits. For example, mindfulness meditation and meditative relaxation techniques combine the calmness of the mind with the calmness of the body. This achieves a holistic state of relaxation of body and mind. Other meditation techniques and exercises, including deep breathing and gradual relaxation, can also help calm the mind and body and regulate the body’s response to stress.
There is also evidence that meditation can lead to changes in brain structures that influence the physical body. Research suggests that meditation may lead to changes in the anterior cingulate cortex and somatosensory cortex areas of the brain, which decrease pain sensitivity. It, therefore, shows that meditation can have a positive impact on pain levels. Research shows that practicing meditation can lead to changes in the amygdala (fight or flight response ), which can lower the body’s heart rate and blood pressure.
Health is studying mindfulness training and improving the mind-body connection.
Another meditation technique, called guided imagery, works on the mind-body connection. Guided imagery can promote sleep, relaxation, and pain. It has been shown that when doing guided imagery, the body reacts in the same way as if it were physically performing the imagined activity. Guided imagery can be used as a technique to help reduce pain, anxiety, and stressful emotions and improve sleep.
Mindfulness training combined with cognitive behavioral therapy also uses mind-body connection techniques. Mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing thought patterns that lead to positive changes in emotions and physical states. For example, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can reduce mental stress as well as physical manifestations of anxiety, such as headaches or stomach aches. The National Institutes of Health are studying mindfulness training and improving the mind-body connection to help people with addictions.
PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION
There are different psychological theories of the connection between body and mind. For example, the theory of embodied cognition examines how the body and physical experiences influence cognition and thought. For example, research has shown that people lean forward when talking about the future and backward when talking about the past. This observation shows the connection between our mind and our subconscious thoughts and our physical movement.
Another theory is the cognitive psychopathology theory, which examines how negative thought patterns lead to negative behaviors and physical symptoms. Cognitive appraisal theory examines how our mental appraisal of different situations and their consequences influences negative and positive emotions, feelings, and behaviors. Finally, cognitive behavioral therapy is linked to the mind-body connection because it has been shown to alter areas of the brain linked to fear responses.
THE EFFECTS OF THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION ON HEALTH
A very important mind-body system for overall health is the digestive system. The digestive system is closely related to the mind and can be considered the second brain. The digestive system is an example of how the body affects mental states. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced in the stomach. Serotonin is involved in many biological processes and also plays an important role in mood and cognitive processing. Therefore, maintaining digestive health is very important for maintaining mental health as well. Conversely, stress and negative emotions often lead to physical symptoms in the gut. Stress and anxiety can make symptoms of bowel conditions such as Chron’s disease worse.