Our minds and our bodies are one interconnected unit. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours exert reactions in our bodies that affect our heart rate, blood chemistry and the activity of every cell and organ in the body.
For example when you feel embarrassed your face might flush red as the blood rushes to your cheeks. Or you might feel nervous before a big presentation and notice that you also have butterflies in your stomach and tense muscles. Or watch a scary movie and find your heart beating faster and that your breathing rises rapidly up and down in your chest.
In other words, your thoughts and emotions affect you physically.
If you tense your body then your thoughts become tense. If you relax your thoughts your body relaxes. What we think affects what we feel which affects what we do…and so on.
This means that negative emotions like loneliness, sadness, hate, jealousy, anger and rage can affect us physically and determine what type of chemicals are released into our body. For example, let’s say you are trying to cross the road and a bus comes speeding past at 80 miles per hour. Your heart pounds, your muscles tense up, you breathe faster, start sweating and your body releases hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and nor-epinephrine. Your body enters it’s stress response, also known as fight or flight.
Depending on the long-term impact of whatever is stressing you out (e.g. in-box zero, working long hours, worries about being laid off, moving home etc.) and how you handle stress, it could take you from 30 mins to two days to return to your normal resting state. If these effects are prolonged they can then cause a variety of issues such as immune deficiencies, heart disease, strokes, eating disorders and so on.
So how can you help yourself to stay healthy and take advantage of the mind body connection?
Firstly you need to begin to pay attention to your emotional and mental states and notice when you have been triggered into feeling painful emotions or uncomfortable body sensations. See last weeks article for how to do this.
Secondly, you need to find a way to keep calm and better manage the effects of stressful situations such as journaling, exercise, tai chi, yoga, coherent breathing, meditation and mindfulness. One of the easiest ways to change your state is to hug someone you care about for at least 20 seconds as it gets oxytocin (the love hormone) flowing in your body. So the next time you start to feel stressed, frustrated or down… find someone to hug… or if there is no-one else around give yourself a great big hug and take a few long deep breaths.