Our mind-body connection describes the overlap between mental and physical health. Taking care of our whole selves can significantly improve wellbeing.
Many of us think of the mind and body as two separate things. We even treat them individually, seeking out a doctor for physical concerns and a therapist for mental issues. However, scientists are finding more and more overlap between the two.
A healthy mind makes your body work better, and a healthy body improves your mental wellbeing. Together, these two areas create one unit called the mind-body connection. The mind-body connection is a subcategory measured in the MHQ (Mental Health Quotient). Taking care of this important relationship can significantly improve overall wellbeing.
Having a healthy mind-body connection means you can generally:
- Have a good nights sleep and wake up feeling rested
- Coordinate your body movements (such as having good eye-hand coordination)
- Have the mental, emotional, and physical energy needed to achieve daily tasks
- Keep check of your eating habits so that you can maintain a steady and healthy body weight
- Cope with stress in a productive way
Alternatively, if you have difficulty with your mind and body connection, you may:
- Frequently suffer from colds, coughs or infections
- Have physical symptoms (such as digestive problems) with no apparent physical cause
- Experience chronic illness or frequent pain
- Often feel tired and worn out
- Have decreased sexual interest
Understanding the Mind-Body Connection
There are many ways through which your mind and body interact. One way is the two-way relationship between our gut health and our mental health – something that is regulated through the gut-brain axis. Here the idea is that your mental state can influence physical symptoms that you experience in your gut and, vice versa, the health of your gut can influence your mental state.
Other evidence also suggests an important link between immune functioning and mental health, especially mood symptoms found in disorders such as depression. Again this revolves around the two-way nature of this connection – in other words it’s not just about how your mental state can impact your immune functioning, but conversely, it is also about how your immune functioning may impact your mental state.
In addition, how we think, cope and respond to stress, and how we view our physical health issues, can affect our mind-body connection.
For example, people may respond very differently to the same stressors. One person may experience a criticism of their work as a challenge to improve their skills or prove the critic wrong. Another person may respond to similar criticism by mentally berating themself and constantly worrying about future attacks. This could lead to an increased heart rate, unhealthy eating, or headaches.
Another example is seen with those who have chronic pain. Sometimes people experience ongoing or intermittent pain caused by a physical concern. If they are able to accept the pain as an inconvenience while working to become healthier, it is more likely to improve over time. On the other hand, if they become frustrated, resentful and frequently angry about the pain, these thoughts and feelings can actually worsen the pain and increase its frequency. The frustration can then keep them from working to become healthier.
Constant stress, emotional problems, and a generally negative outlook can also increase blood pressure, lower the immune system, and even shorten lifespan.
Can I Improve Mind-Body Connection?
Changing how you deal with emotional issues and respond to physical ones is one of the most effective ways to improve your overall health. If you are struggling with other areas of wellbeing, such as with mood and outlook, then getting support for that can help here as well.
Particular types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help you change negative thinking patterns that worsen mental wellbeing. And it can help you deal with the obstacles in the way of taking care of your physical health needs.
Other basic ways to improve wellbeing include following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Taking care of the body in turn protects the mind. Multiple studies show that increasing exercise can be effective in alleviating depression for some people. In addition to the many physical benefits we all know, exercise can actually improve nerve cell connections, making the brain work better.
Many studies also note the benefits of mindfulness, which can help rewire the brain and improve how it responds to stress. Those who practice mindfulness often report feeling less reactive, better able to respond to difficult situations, and less stressed in general, even if their circumstances haven’t changed.
If you are experiencing serious symptoms, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider to discuss this. Talking to a therapist can help you manage any untreated mental health conditions, while also supporting you in taking care of your physical health. If you need help accessing services, you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the U.S.
There are multiple options to start today to improve your mind-body connection. Many activities strategically combine mental and physical activities. Examples include yoga, learning a new dance (which helps the body and brain), Tai Chi, or simply taking a mindful walk. If you have less access to activities due to social distancing concerns or requirements in your area, consider taking a Zoom class, trying a new activity altogether, or following a fun exercise video online. Now may be the most important time to take good care of your mental and physical health.