Denise Ervin RN, BSN, NC-BC
Have you ever considered that your health is more than a physical condition? Have you ever had a headache and wondered what caused it? Are you a diabetic and ever had a hard time controlling your blood sugar during a stressful time in your life, even while making all the recommended food choices? Have you ever felt “hangry,” or irritable/bad-tempered/upset as a result of being hungry? Most of you will have answered yes to one or more of these questions.
All of these physical conditions might be caused by stress, anxiety, tension in a personal or professional relationship, worry, or not feeling like you are good enough. These are all examples of the mind-body connection, a meaningful concept that has an impact on your physical body.
So, what is the mind-body connection? It consists of the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes you have that can positively or negatively affect your biological and physical functioning. In other words, your mind can affect the health of your body.
You can work with the mind-body connection to help prevent disease. Mind-body connection therapies are greatly beneficial to our overall health and well-being by helping to prevent stress. This is extremely important because research clearly shows that prolonged stress contributes to serious diseases such as high blood pressure, heart irregularities, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, persistent fatigue, digestive disorders, mental health issues, diminished fertility, and diabetes.
Mind-body practices can foster a sense of control, enhance optimism, or provide social support that improves quality of life and allows you to cope better with physical symptoms.
What are the benefits of learning how to work with your mind to improve the health and well-being of your physical body?
Paying attention to and exerting some control over your emotions and mental states may help you stay healthy or recover more rapidly from illness or reduce the severity or frequency of symptoms.
Here are three tips on how to start connecting your mind and body today:
1. Begin by noticing how you are feeling. Notice where your mind is throughout the day. Is it in worry, fear, the past, the future, your to-do list? Just begin by noticing. This will cultivate a new awareness.
2. Now, imagine the last time you felt incredible stress or anxiety. Perhaps you had an important meeting, a family member was sick, you did not have the money you needed to buy something, or you missed your plane. Maybe you had a complicated presentation, and you despise public speaking. Or perhaps you underwent important medical testing and were waiting for the phone to ring with results. How did you feel? Notice your jaw, neck, and breathing. Any tension? Are you holding your breath or breathing shallow? Just begin to notice and become more mindful.
3. Now, stop. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply for a few minutes. Gently relax your shoulders, your neck, your jaw. Now, notice how you feel. Become more intentional, present, and mindful throughout the day and continue to notice how you feel. You may even consider setting a timer, or, at certain times throughout the day, checking in with your mind and body and noticing how you are feeling.
This takes practice, just like any other habit you create. Over time, you will have more confidence in the practice, and more control over your emotions, stress, and anxiety.
So, before you pop a Tylenol for that headache, consider some deep breathing: breathing in for a count of three and breathing out for a count of six is a great exercise to decrease your stress level. Take a walk, meditate, or do some other form of exercise such as yoga, jogging, or movements in a chair. The key is to be present and mindful of your intention. Lastly, take some time to play with being more mindful by becoming more connected to your mind and body. It does a body good.