The Mind-Body Connection: How Thoughts Affect our Health

Photo credit: Udemy – The Art of Mindful Meditation

Stress and busy schedules can be listed among two of the most common factors that stop us from analyzing our inner selves and paying more attention to the sometimes fragile balance between mind and body. These factors inevitably influence every single aspect of our daily existence, including our performance at work, or the way in which we interact with the people we love.

This brings us to a very interesting question: are our bodies and minds separate systems that function independently, or are they a part of a whole that can be impacted by our very own thoughts and emotions?

Our thoughts can impact our physical and mental health

Instinctively, we accept the fact that there is a solid, invisible connection between our minds and bodies. Recent research backs this hypothesis, and also makes us go back to the wise words of King David: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” (Prov. 17:22). A broken spirit is associated with a wide range of negative feelings and emotions, such as hatred, jealousy, envy and anger.

In this context, could we really affirm that the thoughts we have can actually make us sick? As the experts from The Gilead Institute of America point out, all these elements can trigger a broad spectrum of diseases, making the body less able to cope with daily mental and physical stressors. In other words, many types of illnesses that deteriorate one’s health can be linked to a mental cause.

For instance, a suppressed grudge can generate a series of chronic pains and aches; a rash may be the surprising result of a strong argument with someone; at the same time, excessive stress associated with an exam or any other important life event can weaken our immune system, increasing our odds to develop a cold.

Another good example illustrating how our thoughts can affect our mind-body balance is the changing heart rhythm and elevated blood pressure in response to problems that we may imagine, and implicitly, anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative feelings and emotions that may come with them. As it turns out, chronic stress generated or amplified by negative feelings of helplessness or lack of hope can alter the hormonal balance of the human body, depleting the brain chemicals that are responsible for the feeling of happiness.

Clearly, our bodies and minds influence each other in a bi-directional way. While biological processes impact our feelings and thoughts, cognition has a big influence on the way in which our bodies perform, and also on our overall wellbeing. There is an incredibly powerful tie between the human mind and body. As a matter of fact, the thoughts that we process on a daily basis have a potent biochemical effect on our bodies. Thoughts affect the functionality of neurotransmitters, our so-called chemical messengers whose job is to maintain a solid connection between different parts of the brain and the overall nervous system.

Neurotransmitters control every single function of the human body, and are responsible for many things, including the way in which we cope with stress, or the fact that we feel happy or sad under certain circumstances. Therefore, it’s safe to say that our thoughts have a direct influence on our body, given that the body decodes all messages sent by the brain, and allows us to get ready for a number of plausible scenarios anticipated by our inner center of control.

Understanding the role of chemical messengers

For instance, psychological stress may take a toll on our catecholamine levels, impacting the functionality of three key neurotransmitters: epinephrine, dopamine and norepinephrine. All these vital elements enable us to prepare our bodies to respond well in a number of potentially dangerous situations.

For example, by elevating blood pressure, neurotransmitters could improve response time and boost speed, enabling us to make a smart call in record time and avoid a wide range of risk factors. At the same time, radical changes triggered by neurotransmitters can have a negative impact on our bodies. For instance, a chronic rise in catecholamines may very well affect the immune system, making us more vulnerable to viral infections and a broad spectrum of other health concerns.
In this context, one question comes to mind: how come some people manage to keep their mind and body healthy, in spite of the fact that they also process negative thoughts and emotions?

The ones who manage to recover rapidly after changes generated by neurotransmitters are the ones who are truly resilient; even when their bodies signal the potential threat that they may be exposed to, they succeed in maintaining a positive attitude and handle stress in a more effective manner.

As an article signed by Dr. Talya Steinberg and published by Psychology Today points out, by cultivating the same approach, we could also gain full control over the functionality of neurotransmitters in our bodies. In other words, a positive attitude based on a more efficient method to process our thoughts (good and bad) plays an important role in maintaining a healthy body-mind connection.

Via chemical messengers activated by our thoughts, all the cells in our bodies are in synch. According to Deepak Chopra, we can all enhance this communication, by involving our conscious mind into this process. Here’s how it works: the way in which our body performs in any situation is governed by two sides of the nervous system: an involuntary one, which doesn’t rely on our aware participation, and a voluntary one, which depends on our awareness. These two sides are interconnected, and we can all switch from the voluntary aspect to the involuntary one with ease. For example, elevated blood pressure can be linked to the way in which our bodies react in a stressful situation; at the same time, this consequence can also be the result of an action representing the result of our intentions, like putting muscles at work during a gym session, for instance.

Yogis also have the power to control involuntary responses, like boosting skin temperature and decreasing their breathing and heart rate; they have this special power, which we could also cultivate, simply because they are able to control the functionality of their neurotransmitters, and implicitly, the biochemical effect of their thoughts on their bodies. We may be able to achieve similar results by working on a stronger mind-body connection that may eventually allow us to take better care of our physical and mental health.

Healing ourselves with the power of positive thoughts

While we may tend to think that our healing mechanisms depend solely on the involuntary aspects of our nervous system, considering that we don’t have to harbor any special thoughts to get rid of a cut or a bruise, in reality, intention may play an important part in healing processes.

To understand how this works, we would just have to take a closer look at the placebo effect, which does a great job at illustrating and supporting this theory. For example, many patients can alleviate or eliminate the symptoms that they’re experiencing after taking a sugar pill that they see as a life-saving remedy to their health problem; in this case, the positive response of their bodies can be attributed to a deeper connection between the body and the mind.

Judging from a holistic point of view, an optimal state of health isn’t interpreted as the absence of any disease symptoms; in this context, health is the epitome of wholeness, vitality and wellbeing. Given that the body and the mind is connected, every single time we process a thought, we give the green light to a flow of cellular reactions in our nervous system, which have a certain impact on every single atom in our body.

According to the specialists from The Chopra Center, our cells witness all our thoughts and adjust to them accordingly. Our thoughts, as well as our response to our life experiences, have a major influence on our health, and implicitly, on the way in which our body performs. This doesn’t mean that all illnesses can be seen as the result of our bodies’ inability to manage negative feelings and emotions and other stressors.

In some cases, the changes that we undergo at a physical level can be the result of our genetic heritage, and have very little to do with the way in which we respond to our own thoughts and outside stimuli. However, we shouldn’t deny the fact that we have the potential to heal or upgrade our bodies by harnessing the power of our own choices, perceptions and thoughts.

Re-establishing a deeper mind-body connection to stay mentally and physically healthy

Fortunately, it is in our power to improve our physical and mental health by simply reinforcing our mind-body balance. A stronger, healthier connection between the mind and the body is based on a more effective dialogue between every cell of our body and our thoughts. An optimal dynamic balance would allow us to pay more attention to the signals that our bodies are trying to send us, and make the necessary changes accordingly in order to support our own wellbeing and happiness.

By taking the time to meditate, embracing a healthier diet revolving around the 6 Ayurvedic tastes and fresh, colorful ingredients, engaging in daily exercises, getting rid of emotional toxins, cultivating positive relationships, making the most of restful sleep, and ending each day with a good laugh, we may all succeed in controlling the biochemical effect that our thoughts have on our body, and thus, work on our mind and body and the connection between these two interdependent systems to improve your overall health and quality of life.