1/10/2023 0 Comments
The Mind-Body Connection: How Emotions and Chronic Stress can Affect Your Body
Perhaps you suffer from a physical condition and want to gain a better understanding of the different factors that might be influencing it. Maybe you are generally interested in learning more about the mind-body connection. If so, please read on. In this article I touch on what science has to say about the influence of emotions and stress on the body, and how this may show up for you.
First let's look at the medical world and its take on the mind-body connection throughout history. One could say that there are two predominant schools of thought or polarities within the field of medicine. A more materialist approach that treats each body part or organs individually and, thus, doesn't establish a direct connection between the mind and the body. And, a more holistic or inclusive approach that takes into account the mind and body as a whole. Although both approaches are valid in their own way and have helped us make incredible progress over time, today we will focus on the second one.
It is only in the last decades that science has made a significant headway. However, this goes way back in time. Hippocrates (460 BC - 370 BC), referred to as the "Father of Western Medicine", in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine, believed the body was regulated by the psyche, or the soul. One of his greatest contributions was to separate medicine from religion, advocating that disease was not a punishment sent by the gods but was the result of various factors such as diet, lifestyle and environment. He said that: “Health is not merely the absence of disease, it is the balance of mind, body and soul.” His views were also shared by great philosophers such as Plato and Aristoteles.
However, it wasn't until 1818 that the term psychosomatic - A physical illness or other condition caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress - was introduced in a medical context by German Psychiatrist Heinroth. Later on, Georg Groddeck (1866-1934), considered by Freud as an innovator in the field of psychosomatics, published books such as The Book of the IT (1924) to expand on his findings. He believed that all forms of illness express an internal conflict and are psychosomatic in nature. He also sustained that disease has its meaning and purpose.
Nowadays, the field of Psychoneuroimmunology is consolidating the science behind the mind-body connection, by studying how an emotional impact can affect our inmune, nervous and endocrine system, resulting in disease. And, according to the US Medical Association, 75% of all health problems are caused by emotions, stress being the biggest threat to our health (Integrative Oncology Dept. Oxford University Press. 2009). I am not going to go into great lengths here, as there are many articles and books you can read on the subject. However, it is now common knowledge that there is an obvious connection between the mind and the body, and a consensus on the fact that our emotions do affect our biology.
One simple way to understand the effects of prolonged levels of stress on the body is to look at how our brains work. Over time, we've developed a more complex neocortex. This part of our brain is largely responsible for higher cognitive functions such as our rational thinking, and ability to project ourselves into the future or dwell on the past. It also sets us apart from most other animals. Take a zebra peacefully grazing in the African Savanna. All of a sudden it senses the presence of a lion lurking behind the bushes. This will alert its reptilian and limbic brain (the older parts of our brains), eliciting a flight response. So, in order for it to muster the energy it needs to run for its life, its body will redistribute energy levels to functions that will enhance its ability to run, shutting down other parts like its immune system, for example. Think of it as a built in emergency, energy saving system. It's a brilliant biological solution. However, it is only designed to last for short periods of time and is not sustainable over time. Once the zebra is out of danger, it will resume its activities, allowing its body to regulate itself again and go back to homeostasis. Unlike us humans, It won't sit there dwelling for days on end about the terrible things the lion tried to do or might do to it in the future.
Your unconscious mind doesn't distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat. Whatever you are thinking about is real to your mind. Therefore, your lion could be your credit card debt, your mother in law, your boss, your unfaithful spouse or whatever you are constantly worrying about. Your constant worrying is activating the same physiological response as the zebra. In other words, your body is preparing for fight/flight in the same way. Over extended periods of time, this can wreak havoc on your immune system, resulting in a physical symptom or condition. Therefore, addressing the emotional factors that might be influencing your body, as well as how you perceive and respond to your environment, can greatly help your overall wellbeing in the long run.
If you want to delve further into this fascinating topic, please stay tuned for episode 007 of the Art of Living Consciously Podcast: The Mind-Body connection: How to Boost Your Emotional and Physical Wellbeing. release date: Jan 11th 2023.
Click here to find out more.
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Hi, I´m Dannie
A fellow soul seeker, blogger & certified BioNeuroEmotion® (BNE) practitioner who is passionate about growing, self actualising & learning in order to lead a more coherent/conscious life and help others do the same.
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