Our minds and bodies are deeply connected. Our feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes can affect our physical functioning and have a positive or negative impact on our health.
On the other hand, how we treat our bodies impacts our mental state. This complex togetherness of our minds and bodies flows in circles, making them inseparable allies in the battle for our health and overall wellbeing.
Unlike its Eastern counterpart, which tends to the human health needs based on a holistic approach, Western medicine is still reductive.
Following the principle of Occam’s Razor, western doctors are looking for the fewest possible causes to explain multiple symptoms, choosing the most common and simplest explanations. This often leads to reducing health issues to physical causes only, resulting in an entirely physical solution, most often a pill.
Holistic medicine, however, evaluates the entire person, both the body and the mind. It focuses on any imbalances between them and is looking for ways to heal them. This approach emphasizes a person’s ability to heal themselves and tries to enhance this capacity.
But the purely reductionist Western approach has become increasingly aware of the mind-body connection and is moving forward a biopsychosocial perspective. A Stanford University study has shown that women with metastatic breast cancer who participated in group therapy lived significantly longer than women who received physical treatment only.
It took many years for the medical public to accept the ideas of Dean Ornish, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, that heart disease can be prevented and significantly reversed by lifestyle changes, such as stress management, a healthy diet, moderate exercise, meditation or yoga, and social support. Now, this knowledge is the basis for treating cardiovascular disease worldwide.
The latest research on MDMA also shows the importance of the mind-body connection. This psychedelic drug has shown potential in treating PTSD, by rendering the research participants more cooperative and open to learning the value of social reward behaviors. MDMA reopens a window to a “critical period” and strengthens the bond of a patient and their psychotherapist, necessary for the successful treatment.
On the other hand, the impact of our physical state on our mental wellbeing can be seen in the effects of some medical procedures. Frequently mistaken for being motivated by vanity, plastic surgery can in many cases improve our overall health and wellbeing. Such corrective procedures can alleviate anxiety, depression and increase self-esteem.
Let’s take a simple procedure, such as a scar removal treatment as an example. A study has found that people with no facial imperfections on their faces, such as scars, blemishes or birthmarks, are more likely to get a job. When such imperfections exist, the attention of the job interviewers is mostly focused on these facial differences, instead of on what the candidates are actually saying.
This discrimination, which interviewers are not aware of, can sometimes be the cause of many emotional problems of the affected people and impact their health and wellbeing.
When we accept the fact that our mind and body are interconnected, what can we do in order to live full and healthy lives? Here are a few quick reminders.
Practice deep breathing. Although this practice is not actually a cure for any disease, it is a great way to fight the everyday stress we are experiencing. Deep breaths send a message to our mind to relax, and then the mind sends the same message to our body.
Progressive muscle relaxation. You systematically and intentionally tense and release each one of your muscle groups to relieve muscle tension and calm down your anxiety.
Guided imagery. Use visions of a setting that makes you feel calm and relaxed.
Yoga. The practice includes deep breathing along with certain postures and meditation to help you stretch your body and relieve you from anxiety and stress.
Mindfulness. The practice consists of bringing awareness to what you’re sensing, thinking or feeling. The goal is just being aware of what is happening, without doing anything to change it.
Walk. Taking a walk can reduce your depression and anxiety, and have many positive impacts on your physical health too. Studies show that 200 minutes of walking per week significantly reduces depression and positively impacts your wellbeing.
Smile often. Maintaining a positive facial expression during stress has both the physiological and psychological benefits, a study shows. Laughter decreases stress hormones, reduces artery inflammation and increases good cholesterol.
Being responsible for our health and wellbeing goes far beyond the regular schedules with our GPs and taking prescribed medication on time. It’s acknowledging the unity of our dualistic nature and learning how to embrace it and use its power to heal.