Friday, October 23, 2015

The Mind-Body Connection

Hello friends!

What's new and exciting in your world today?  

I've been noticing one common theme in different areas of my life lately.  Stress, worry, guilt.  I'm hearing about it from family, friends, clients, the news, at networking events, etc.  Whether it's about work, family, money, health, most everyone I've talked to lately has been expressing concerns around their stress levels.  

I've talked about this before in a previous post, how your mindset can really impact how you feel and that it's really a choice.  It takes some work to consistently stay positive, but it is possible to maintain an generally positive perspective on things.  Aside from making a big difference in how you feel day-in and day-out, it's really so much more important than that.

Today I want to take it a level deeper and talk about the mind-body connection.  Amazing as it seems, your thoughts and feelings actually impact the way your body functions and heals itself.

What is the Mind-Body Connection?

I love this article from MindBodyGreen, Scientific Proof That Negative Beliefs Harm Your Health - if you have time, I'd encourage you to read the whole thing (just click on the link). 

This article starts out talking about the "placebo effect" which is the phenomenon where patients receive a sugar pill, thinking they are taking a wonder drug, and their bodies actually get better 18-80% of the time. That is a direct example of the power of positive thinking.  So what about the opposite?  Unfortunately, yes, there have been studies showing that having negative beliefs can actually harm you physically.  

"...if you’re just someone whose subconscious mind is filled with limiting beliefs from your childhood like “I’m the sickly type” or “My family gets cancer,” focusing your attention on illness has been scientifically proven to predispose the body to illness. Excessive knowledge about what can go wrong with the body can actually harm you. The more you focus on the infinite ways in which the body can break down, the more likely you are to experience physical symptoms."

While focusing on illness can have a negative affect on your health, even just experiencing worry, stress, and guilt can negatively impact your body.

From an article in Psychology today:
...research shows that psychological stress affects our levels of catecholamines, which include the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These neurochemical changes prepare the body to deal with perceived danger in a number of important ways, such as raising blood pressure so as to allow faster speed and response time. However, chronic elevations in catecholamines suppresses the immune system, and suppression of the immune system raises the risk of viral infection and other diseases.

Resilient people actually resist illnesses, cope with adversity, and recover quicker because they are able to maintain a positive attitude and manage their stress effectively. By managing our attitudes and stress levels, we actually control neurochemical transmissions in the body. The power of a healthy attitude therefore cannot be underestimated in the body-mind connection.

What if I'm a compulsive worrier?

I realize it's not as easy as saying "OK, just don't be stressed, feel guilty, or worry about anything!"   A lot of these thoughts are really learned habits, and can be unlearned if you choose to do so and spend some time and effort on it.  If it's the way you've been thinking your whole life, it'll take time and patience to turn off those types of thoughts.

Let's do an experiment.  Pick one thing that you're worried about.  Have you been in a similar situation before?  If so, what happened?  Did what you were so worried about come to fruition?   

There was a study to determine just that, and turns out 85% of what we worry about never happens. AND, "for the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions."

If worry, guilt, and stress are just a normal part of your day, it's not easy to convert yourself to Pollyanna overnight. However, it is a choice you can make and with some focus, time, and patience, you will start to see a difference.  And who knows, with the mind-body connection, you probably will see a difference in other areas of your life, how you feel mentally, and possibly even your health!

If you're struggling with worry, guilt or stress, these things can help: 
  • Gratitude: focus on the things that are going right, and this will give your mind less time to think about what's going wrong!
  • Self Care: take care of your needs and you'll be better equipped to deal with stressful things that come up
  • Reminders: Again, if you're a life-long worrier it will take time to change.  It's basically a habit.  Leave yourself notes, tie a string or rubber band around your wrist,  or set a reminder in Outlook - these things will help you to at least remember that you're trying to look for the positive.  As you start to worry, just say "NO!" Cut off that thought and move onto something else.
  • Focus on the Now: If you're feeling stressed out, take a moment, focus on taking deep breaths or your surroundings, and just observe.  We miss out on so much when we're "in our head."  

Check out these recent posts for additional suggestions:
Have you personally experienced the mind-body connection?  How can you remind yourself to think about the positive vs letting worry take over?   Please share in the comments. 
Have a great week! :)

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