What is the Mind-Body Connection and How Does it Affect Stress?
Do you ever notice that when you’re worn down, you tend to get sick? Do you feel moody and irritable when you’re lacking proper sleep? If you’re like most people, you have experienced these things. This is because the mind and body are intimately connected, constantly communicating with one another. When one system is taxed, you will feel the effects in the other. Our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes can positively or negatively impact our physical health, and our physical health can positively or negatively affect our mental health.
How Stress Relates to the Mind-Body Connection
Stress is particularly taxing on our minds and bodies. Research repeatedly shows that long-term stress on the body has serious implications for our health, particularly our cardiovascular health. When stressed or anxious, our bodies respond as if we are under attack. Our amygdala, the fear system in our brains, activates, which causes a release of hormones preparing us for fight or flight. The hormones increase our heart and breathing rate and pump blood to our muscles and away from our digestive system. Because our amygdala is not good at differentiating between what is a real threat and what is not, everytime we feel stress and anxiety, this physiological response is triggered. Over time, it causes wear and tear on our nervous system and impacts all other systems in our body (e.g., endocrine, immune, cardiovascular, digestive).
How Can We Reduce Stress to Improve Our Mind-Body Connection?
The good news is that there are things you can do to decrease stress and improve your mind body connection.
- Movement! Exercise decreases stress hormones and increases serotonin, norepinephrine, and endorphins. These hormones decrease pain and stress, improve mood and well-being, and improve appetite and sleep. We also take in more oxygen when we exercise, which helps us think rationally and improve our cognitive performance. Exercise is also beneficial for improving sleep and decreasing fatigue and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Any form of exercise or movement will do, so feel free to pick whatever you like and will keep you motivated.
- Nutrition: When we are feeling stressed, we often make poor eating choices. Either reaching for something quick and easy, or comforting ourselves with unhealthy foods. The problem with this is that processed and refined foods are linked to higher levels of stress. So when you are feeling stressed, try to focus on whole foods and foods that are high in nutrients. Try to avoid caffeine and refined sugars as these can increase stress levels.
- Yoga/Meditation: Yoga is considered a form of exercise and helps us be more mindful. Mindfulness helps us stay focused on the present moment. While we are in the present moment, we are not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Being mindful also helps us be aware of our current bodily cues, helping us notice stress and anxiety signs in our bodies. This can alert us to practice stress relief before anxiety impedes our effectiveness. Yoga is also good for our health– it can lower blood sugar and blood pressure, relieve chronic pain and anxiety, and improve our lung capacity.
- Routines: When we feel like we have no control over our lives, having a routine can help us gain back some feelings of control. Planning our day takes away some of the unknown in life, which can decrease anxiety. Additionally, if we plan, we can make time for things that improve our mind-body connection such as exercise and good nutrition. Obviously, things come up and plans go awry, but planning at least one part of your day can relieve stress.
Start to notice how you feel both physically and mentally after you eat healthy, exercise, meditate, etc. With small, healthy changes to your life, your mind and body will feel the positive effects. If you want to learn more about the mind-body connection, TLC-VR is here to help you.