Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Mind/Body Connection

"The physical world, including our bodies, is a response of the observer.
We create our bodies as we create the experience of our world."
- Deepak Chopra, M.D.

This Spirituality and Science post will continue the exploration of the mind/body connection that began with our Quantum Physics discussion last week.

So what exactly is the mind/body connection?
It simply means that our physical selves and mental/emotional selves are not independent of each other and impact each other in significant ways. An everyday example of this: stress or tension headaches.

Have you ever had a stressful day at work or home where everything seemed chaotic, or your co-workers and/or kids were driving you crazy, and you later came down with a throbbing headache. This is an example of a mental stressor causing an actual physical problem (unless your co-worker actually did strike you in the head, which is a whole different issue). A personal example that happened to me repeatedly while in college and graduate school was that I would pull several "all-nighters" during finals week each semester, and as soon as the last final was over, I would get sick...usually just a cold, but sick nonetheless. Why do these things happen?

When under stress, the body produces excess amounts of stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine. The purpose of these hormones is to help you cope with a dangerous situation to help ensure your survival. So if a bear attacks you while hiking, your cortisol levels would understandably be quite high. The problem happens when you remain under chronic stress for a period of time.

The body isn't meant to sustain such high levels of stress hormones and eventually, your immune system will suffer. On a minor scale, a cold doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world but more and more research is supporting that many diseases are impacted by our stress level and emotional state of being, such as autoimmune disorders and yes, even cancer. The stresses involved in cancer may be physical stresses (such as carcinogens like cigarettes) but may also be non-physical or mental stressors. I can also tell you that out of the hundreds of clients I have seen in private practice, the ones who had significant depression and anxiety all had a host of physical problems as well. When their mental and emotional states stabilized, their physical symptoms also greatly improved. Whether one caused the other, or vice versa, was not so important to me as the clients understanding that they were deeply connected.

In his book, Quantum Healing, by Deepak Chopra, M.D. (my favorite book on the mind/body connection) he discusses a major study of 400 spontaneous remissions from cancer. The one thing that was found in common among all 400 patients was that every person had changed their attitude (becoming positive and hopeful even in the face of negative medical opinions) before the remission occured.

This can actually sound pretty scary at first and cause some defensiveness, like "You're saying I gave myself fibromyalgia?" but it's actually incredibly empowering. So many people with medical disorders feel a sense of helplessness and lack of control. They give most of their power away to the doctors treating them. There are amazing doctors and medical treatments out there, so I'm not saying to ignore conventional medicine, but I am asking you to also trust your own instincts. This applies to mental health disorders as well. I always made clear to the clients I treated that they were the experts about themselves, not me. I was just there to guide them. No one will ever know you better than you know yourself, no matter how many degrees they may have!

How can you make your attitude more positive and thus feel better physically?
1) Laughter is one great way. Find the friends, shows, and books that make you laugh and laugh every day!

2) Meditation is another way to get in touch with your inner self. Just breathe quietly and let go of stress for a few minutes a day. I know people who do it for several minutes a day at their desk and it makes a huge difference. Studies have shown that people who meditate are able to relax more quickly than most, and thus aren't producing as many stress hormones.

3) Focus on someone else. Volunteer to help someone less fortunate than you (there is always someone in worse shape than you are and sometimes it's helpful to realize this), find a cause you are passionate about and join a group that supports this, become a big brother/big sister, adopt a dog (studies have shown that petting animals lowers blood pressure and reduces stress!)

4) These are basics but all relate to lowering stress levels in the body: Get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise.

If you understand the magnificence of the human brain and can harness its energy, you will realize that the most powerful medicine in the universe is inside yourself. No pharmaceutical company can touch it.

1 comment:

Chuck Dilmore said...

Thank you for your post...
Again - excellent, and just what I've been seeking!