Exploring the mind/body connection

When you aren’t physically feeling well, your entire body is often affected. That makes sense, right? When one part isn’t working at its best, none of the parts do.

Well, the same is true when your mental health is impacted. When you aren’t feeling well emotionally, your entire body can feel the effects. But why is that exactly?

Let’s take a look at the “mind/body connection” and what it means for your health.

The basics

Consider how the body works. All of its parts work together to keep it functioning optimally.

That doesn’t just mean the physical parts, like bones, muscles, tendons and organs. It also means the brain — and our thoughts, feelings and even mood.

That means that your mind can both positively and negatively affect your overall health and physical well-being.

Consider this example that most people have experienced: When you’re feeling extremely stressed, from work or other responsibilities, you often have both mental symptoms, like anxiety or worry, and physical symptoms, like stomach issues or headaches.

That’s the mind/body connection.

History’s take on the mind/body connection

Centuries ago, medicine in all parts of the world considered the mind and body all together as one whole. Gradually, the Western world, including the United States, began to move toward a medical system that saw the two as distinct, separate entities.

Both approaches have benefits, and separating the mind and body led to advancements in surgery and medications, among other areas.

Beginning in the last century, though, researchers in the United States and other countries in the West began to look into how the mind affected the body — and vice versa.

This research found that mental health often has a tie to physical health, causing symptoms or other health conditions to emerge. The same is true in reverse.

Stress & the body

Let’s go back to the example about stress. We’ve established that if you’re feeling overly stressed, you may experience some physical symptoms.

In addition, though, when your emotional health suffers, you become less likely (or less able) to take care of your overall health. You may let your healthy lifestyle fall by the wayside by not exercising as often or eating unhealthy foods. You may also be tempted by unhealthy habits, like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.

This can lead to a variety of health issues, including gastrointestinal conditions, back pain, elevated blood pressure, difficulties sleeping and even chest pain.

So, what does that mean?

Doctors and other medical providers today know that the entire body is connected — and that your physical symptoms can wreak havoc on the mind and your emotional symptoms can cause issues with the body.

If you begin to experience unfamiliar symptoms that don’t seem to have an underlying physical cause, your doctor will likely talk with you about your lifestyle, including your stress levels and what’s happening in your life. Using that information, he or she may recommend that you practice techniques that have been shown to help calm the mind, and in turn, the body.

These techniques typically use both the body and the mind together and may include creative activities, yoga or tai chi, guided relaxation exercises, meditation, or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

You can help keep your mind/body connection strong by practicing a healthy lifestyle. Exercise regularly, take time for yourself, eat a balanced diet and minimize stress whenever possible.

If you believe your mental health is negatively affecting your physical health, or vice versa, talk with your doctor about what’s you’re experiencing. Need a doctor? Find one here.