The Mind Body Connection

meditating-1170645_640The mind and body are inextricably connected. Modern science is showing us how our thoughts, feelings, and behavior impact the way our bodies feel and function and vice versa.

We now know how chronic stress impacts the brain and immune system. The brain sends signals to the immune system by releasing neurotransmitters which carry communications to the immune cells. A stressor can trigger the release of various neurotransmitters that tell the immune system what to do. Conversely, immune system cells release their own chemicals that have an effect on the brain, which in turn tells other cells and systems in the body what to do. The stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cell ability to replace DNA that is lost during cell division, making individuals under chronic stress  more susceptible to illness. In addition, research has shown that the effects of stress can be conditioned such that even after the stressor is removed, immune suppression can continue. In short, our brains impact our immune systems and vice versa.

There is growing evidence of the way in which the mind and body interact to impact health. We have found that certain chronic diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, asthma and fibromyalgia, can worsen in the presence of depression and anxiety. Helplessness and hopelessness are correlated with decreased rates of survival in individuals with life threatening illness. There is research showing how mindfulness meditation can lower blood pressure and decrease nausea and chronic pain. Biofeedback has been associated with decreased severity and frequency of migraine headaches in children. We also know that counseling, stress management education, relaxation training, attending worship services, and having a strong sense of spirituality are correlated with increased lifespan as well as decreased symptom severity or reoccurrence in individuals with serious illnesses such as cancer, HIV, and cardiovascular disease.

It makes sense then, that we address the whole person – body, mind and spirit – in the services we provide to people suffering from stress and/or illness. Consumers are also indicating a growing interest in these integrated services. Fortunately, more and more of us are recognizing the mind-body connection and its importance in health and wellbeing.

Me: Better By Monday

“Our human perceptual habits are remarkably stupid in some ways. We tune out 99 percent of all the sensory stimuli we actually receive, and we solidify the remainder into discrete mental objects. Then we react to those mental objects in programmed, habitual ways.”  -Bhante H. Gunaratana (Mindfulness in Plain English)

One of the objects which can develop in the mind is the concept of self. We use language to differentiate you from me. Language allows us to identify, quantify and qualify all incoming data including information about who we are. Impression management starts when labels are affixed to us like name tags. Smart Dave, Happy Cindy, Lazy Eric, and Debbie Ding-Dong are some combinations of given names with added labels.

Once we are taught the distinction of “me from you” the ability to frame events within the two concepts becomes natural. When good fortune falls at our door – we can exclaim, “I have good fortune!” If this happens enough, others may begin to believe the phenomenon has more to do with the person it happens to and not just the happening itself. The community could bestow upon a person who has consistent good fortune a title of significance, such as Lucky Larry.

The new title may have importance attached to it which fixes the idea of being fortunate upon the person – this could influence the person to start believing, “I’m special.”  There is nothing wrong with wanting to believe we are special but to assign it to something that is out of our control proves to be an unfortunate action.

The trip down the road of wanted (I’m special) and unwanted (I’m not enough) labels is treacherous. Some positive labels tarnish and erode the worth of the people wearing them more than a negative label. The pressure to be smart, pretty, lucky, or happy takes the enjoyment out of the experience.

It seems to come down to how we prefer to self-identify. If I can create a preferred way of being seen or have it given to me by others – I will also find the energy to keep that illusion going.  I become less “me” and more label-able. My ability to keep my perceived positive label is driven by my need for the label to be the truth but while I am trying to prove a label – I am losing touch with my real self.

One Thing To Do: Stay open to the incoming data from the world. Don’t allow the negatives or the positives to become what you must have or must hide about yourself. You can handle the labels thrown at you, without accepting them, by just observing them and deciding if you think they fit or not. Keep a piece of each one to try on and test how much of it remains within you.

 

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S, LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.