What is the Mind Body Connection?

On this site, in the Solid Blog, on the Life Stuff 101 podcast and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
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Why the Mind Body Connection is Important to Understand for Better Mental Health

As a helping professional, those of us who work using a holistic approach, believe that overall health means having health and that there is a connection in all the area of our lives, including the mental and the physical.

This is often referred to as Mind Body Connection.

And while I work from the basis of this belief, I do want to be sure to clarify that I am not a somatic or body-based trained practitioner, but I will be providing some suggestions to gain more body awareness and therapies.

Mental Health is Not Just Noticeable By Differences in Mood and Behaviours

We often think about our emotions and mental health specifically in relation to mood or behaviours, but based on the Mind Body Connection philosophy, it can be valuable to also consider the impact our emotions can have on our physical selves as well.

Some people might think of the idea of the Mind Body Connection as ‘woo-woo’, but the National Institute of Health a government agency in the US, publicly acknowledges that overall health has a connection with physical and emotional well-being and uses the term “mind body connection” in their literature

In the US, it has been reported that over 75% of primary care visits were considered to be stress-related.

There may be people who don’t realize that they are having emotional difficulties until its noticeable in the physical body. Even then, they may not realize that it is emotionally connected.

Many people who consult their family doctor for a physical concern, such as issues with sleep, lack of energy, higher blood pressure, heart palpitations and so on, may find that many of those issues can also be connected to an emotionally-related concern, as well.

Chicken or the Egg?

There is so much inter-connection between emotional and physical health, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out which came first: the mental distress or the physical ones?

Not exercising regularly, nor eating nutritionally, or practicing self-care may mean that there could be other less desirable behaviours like using alcohol, tobacco or other substances for self-soothing.  These can lead to poor emotional health. 

But then, feelings of anxiety and stress can make it difficult to practice consistent overall self-care.  It’s important to consider the on-going need to balance both the necessity for care of physical and mental health.

Compromised emotional health can lead to a weakened immune system, which can leave you more susceptible to colds, flus and infections.

Many people may not realize that their physical symptoms may also be a sign of emotional distress. 
They can include, but not limited to:
• Chest tightness or pain
• High blood pressure
• Shoulder, neck and back pain
• Headaches
• Heart palpitations
• Decreased energy levels and tiredness
•Upset stomach

Importance of Deep Breathing Properly

Something I learned a few years ago that was a total light bulb moment for me was that many of us don’t know how to breathe properly or at the very least, don’t know how to really take deep breaths.

Here’s something that totally illustrates the mind body connection: When we continually take shortened or shallow breaths, it keeps signalling to the brain and nervous system that there’s something stressful happening.

The shortened breath is the body’s way of getting access to do something quickly, like running away.

But when we continually breathe in this shallow way, we can habitually feel stressed or in some kind of danger.

Deep breathing practices are important because it’s an immediate way to signal to the brain and body that it’s safe to relax, and often the mood and physical symptoms of hyperarousal will turn itself down.

Tips to understand the connection between emotional and physical health better

(Especially some of the symptoms above are present.)

  • Speak to your family doctor. Consider asking your doctor, “I don’t think my physical concerns are emotionally related, but is it possible that they may be?”
  • Consider starting a mindfulness, yoga practice or other physical practices like martial arts. These practices can help with developing body awareness.
  • Seek out Somatic Therapies. A combination of talk therapy and specific training in understanding physical responses to emotions such as Sensory Awareness, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Traumatic Release Exercises.
  • Check out meditation and deep breathing apps. Like Headspace, Calm, Breathe or apps for that would guide through deep breathing.

We’ve only scratched the surface of the Mind Body Connection today, but to truly think about what’s required for overall health, it’s necessary to be aware of the health-related connections between the mental and physical.

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