The Mind-Body Connection Explained

The mind and body have a powerful connection – both have the ability to influence each other physically and mentally. We explain how it works and common mind-related illnesses.

Don’t let the name fool you – the ‘mind-body connection’ isn’t as woo-woo as it sounds.

Emerging science is linking seemingly unrelated mental and bodily issues. The new research concludes that embracing the powerful link between our minds and our physical health can help alleviate chronic conditions and improve overall wellness.

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Here’s some food for thought: if you were experiencing abdominal pain, like diarrhoea and bloating, would you go to see a psychologist? Probably not but apparently it’s worth considering according to the mind-body connection theory.

What is the mind-body connection?

It’s often said that once people who’ve been declining for some time due to an undiagnosed illness find out they’re dying, their mind gives up and they decline faster. The mind-body connection hypothesises that idea – denoting that physical health and emotional health are intimately intertwined. How we’re feeling, our beliefs and attitudes can positively or negatively affect how our body’s function – and vice versa. 

Mind Body Connection
The mind has the power to influence how our body functions and vice versa /

The mind and brain are not the same

Don’t confuse the mind and the brain; they’re not one and the same according to preventive and lifestyle medicine physician Dr. Jennifer Weinberg. The mind consists of thoughts, emotions, beliefs and attitudes we feel both consciously and subconsciously. The brain, on the other hand, is the hardware that allows us to experience these mental states. Each mental state has a positive or negative effect felt in the physical body.

Common mind-body related illnesses

Below is just a snapshot of illnesses and disorders than have a complex relationship with the mind.

1. Heart attack

Your risk for heart attack leaps 30 percent if you’re depressed. Poor mental health can trigger a flood of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as adrenaline. Depression can also make your platelets (cells that help your body stop bleeding) stickier and more prone to forming clots, which can stop blood flow to the heart.

Heart Attack Causes
Heart attacks and heart disease can stem from negative mental health / Freepik

2. Migraines

Anxiety is closely linked to chronic migraines. Those prone to anxiety are two-and-a-half times more likely to report anxiety than non-sufferers.

3. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Anxiety and depression triple the risk of IBS in women. Research suggests this is because those who experience fluctuations in mood are more sensitive to gastrointestinal discomfort and microbiome disruption, which causes overactivity of nerves potentially leading to IBS.

4. Eating disorders

For individuals living with an eating disorder or major insecurities like body dysmorphia, there is often a strong desire for the body to conform to what the mind wants. How you eat, feel and react influence weight gain or loss. A negative mindset is not only hard on your heart, but drives poor eating habits. Stress eating and mindless snacking is often induced by anxiety, which will evidently show up on the scales.

The brain also has the incredible power to turn dieting into fat preservation. Researchers theorise we developed this trait when our ancestors needed to survive famines. It means that depriving the body of food can actually turn on your body’s fat-preservation mode.

Mind-body treatments

The only way to get—and keep—people well is to treat the mind and body as two parts of a whole, says Erika Saunders, M.D., a professor and chair of psychiatry. The best way to keep your body healthy, and vice versa, is to understand hidden mind-body links.

Treatments for illnesses spurred by the mind are similar to those for acute and chronic stress.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is particularly popular, which helps people understand how their thoughts affect their emotions and behaviour and to replace those with positive thinking.

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