What Is The Mind-Body Connection?
By Julia Thomas
Updated November 20, 2019
Reviewer Patricia Corlew , LMFT, LPC,
The mind and the body are clearly linked: the mind controls the body, and the body houses the mind. Early philosophers referred to this concept as the mind-body connection. However, you don't need to be a philosopher to be interested in how your mental and physical health are related.
When we talk about the mind-body connection today, we are referring to how our thinking, outlook, viewpoints, and mindset can have a constructive or destructive impact on our biological functioning, and how in turn our physical health can impact those functions of our mind. The theory is that if we think and feel positive, upbeat, kind thoughts, our body will function like a well-oiled machine-and that we won't be able to think or feel our best if our physical health is poor. There is no research needed to know that you feel better when you are in a good mood, and it's hard to be in a good mood when you don't feel well. In this article, we'll discuss things you can do for yourself to keep a good mind-body balance so you can be your healthiest self.
What do you do when your mind and body don't seem to be on the same page? It depends on the cause and the symptoms. Sometimes it is because you are working yourself too hard, need something to eat, didn't get enough sleep, or just had a lousy day. Other times, it can be because of a serious health condition. In this case, your primary care provider can help you directly, or they can tell you when it's time to see a mental health expert.
Take Time for Yourself
Often when our minds and bodies aren't working as they should, it's because we've been too busy to tend to our own needs. To stay emotionally and physically healthy, you need to take time for self-care. This does not mean you should be selfish. It means doing something for yourself each day that has a positive effect on your mind, body, and soul. Choose something that keeps you present in the moment and is a mind-quieting activity. Giving yourself the care you need keeps you healthy enough to help others. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Self-care can mean that you:
- take a hot bath
- listen to music
- get a massage
- go for a walk
Food needs to nourish the body. Meals need to be balanced to provide the proper nutrition. One way to make sure you are eating a balanced meal is to include the six Ayurvedic tastes-sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent-in each meal. Most American meals focus on sweet, salty, and sour, thus missing out on the balancing effects of pungent, bitter, and astringent. It is important to include these additional three tastes, because they are known to be anti-inflammatory and increase metabolism. Of course, the fresher the food, the better, with a variety of proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
- Sweet: builds tissues, calms nerves; fruits, grains, natural sugars, milk
- Sour: cleanses tissues, increases absorption of minerals; sour fruits, yogurt, fermented foods
- Salty: improves taste of food, lubricates tissues, stimulates digestion; natural salts, sea vegetables
- Bitter: detoxifies and lightens tissues; dark, leafy greens, herbs, spices
- Pungent: stimulates digestion and metabolism; chili peppers, garlic, herbs, spices
- Astringent: absorbs water, tightens tissues, dries fats; legumes, raw fruits and vegetables, herbs
You may have heard that a glass of wine each day can help with heart health. The evidence is not definitive: this may or may not be true. However, a bottle of wine each day will not help anyone's heart or head. Having an occasional alcoholic drink is not likely to harm your mind-body connection. But consuming excessive alcohol can have an adverse effect on the body, including weight gain, liver deterioration, headaches, and stomach issues. Further, too much alcohol can impact sleep patterns and act as a depressant.
Follow an Exercise Routine
Moving your body is an excellent way to support the mind-body connection. Getting the blood flowing and the heart pumping helps keep your mind focused on something besides negative thoughts and worry. Endorphins, our natural painkillers, are released in the body when we exercise. Physical activity generates biological transformations that amplify the brain's capacity to gain knowledge and execute other cognitive tasks. When you get into an exercise routine, you become more fit and healthy, and it is easier to focus on your successes. When you schedule regular workouts, your mind will become focused on the exercises you are doing instead of worries or negative thoughts. Your immune system will be strengthened, and both your body and mind will feel better. Types of exercises for your routine may include:
- yoga-good for proprioception (or "body awareness")
- spinning-builds muscle, improves heart and lung health, good for weight loss
- kickboxing-good for weight loss, heart and lung health, and proprioception
- dance-good for weight loss, heart and lung health, and proprioception
- weights-builds muscle
- Crossfit-builds muscle
- barre-good for proprioception
- Pilates-good for proprioception
- running-good for weight loss and improving heart and lung health
- walking-low-impact activity, good for weight loss
You Are Getting Sleepy
You should not be getting sleepy in the middle of the day. Your body rests and repairs during sleep, so it is of vital importance to get consistent, restful sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you have ever had a bad night's sleep, you probably felt cranky, impatient, and stressed the next day. A restful night's sleep means that you fall asleep shortly after you turn out the light and remain asleep all night. You know that you have had a restful night of sleep when you wake up alert and energized. Try the following tips for restful sleep:
- Do not use a medical sleep aid or alcohol to fall asleep
- Go to bed and awaken at the same time each day
- Do not sleep more than an hour later on weekends/days off
- No technological devices in bed
- Keep the room dark and quiet
- Comfortable temperature setting
- Comfortable bed and pillow
Let It Go
We hold onto many types of emotional pain in our minds and bodies. We may not even realize that we are holding this pain. Any type of emotional trauma takes a toll on our mind and body in some way. If you can't form a meaningful bond with another person, or you still feel sad about situations from your past, you are probably holding onto emotional pain. Letting go of this pain will result in a positive catharsis. Ways to let go of emotional pain include journaling, counseling, group therapy, and meditation.
Develop Interpersonal Relationships
Having others to trust and interact with is one of the most important parts of being a human being. You don't have to have a huge group of friends, but several close, personal friends and a partner can lead to a happier, healthier life. Being able to talk to someone who has gone through similar experiences and having people you can do things with helps keep your mind off your worries and the mind-body connection strong. Ways to develop your network of friends include the following:
- Join meet-up groups
- Take classes
- Join parenting groups
- Join a book club
- Join a sports team
- Attend after-work gatherings
Laughter Is the Best Medicine
It really is! Laughter reduces stress hormones in the body and improves the immune system. Who doesn't love to laugh? Making it a part of your daily routine should be a priority. To get more laughter in your life:
- Subscribe to comedy podcasts or YouTube videos
- Watch a favorite sitcom rerun every day
- Get a joke of the day calendar
- Like humorous pages on Facebook
- Spend time with people who make you smile and laugh
The above suggestions are a great place to start, provided something Isn't seriously wrong. Needing sleep or more exercise can create mind and body problems, but so can serious conditions like anxiety or depression. If you are experiencing the latter, it's time to find a counselor. If you have a diagnosed condition, your primary health provider can help you find a counselor in your area; local therapy may even be covered by your health insurance plan. However, some people find it more convenient, affordable, and even helpful to talk to a therapist online. If the idea seems strange to you, read the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing issues related to the mind-body connection.
"Melissa has been a champion for my health and personal growth from day one! She allowed me to be open, honest, truly me and has helped me become the person I knew I could be. Through active listening, open conversation and communication I learned techniques through worksheets, goal setting, and readings that have improved my quality of life. Melissa has gone above and beyond for me and I know it's because she genuinely has a passion for her work and her clients' health and wellness. I am so happy to work with Melissa!"
"After my first session, I already felt like I was making the first step to a healthier future! Thank you Doctor Pittrell!"
There are a couple of simple tools you can use to restore your mind-body connection when you feel a little off. However, it's important to have a professional to talk to when you need more help. WIth the right tools, you can create a balanced connection between your body and your mind. Take the first step today.