The Mind-Body Connection
The mind and body are amazing. They are partners that are always "talking" to each other and "cooperating." They connect through very complicated back-and-forth signals or "messages" involving the central nervous system, hormones, brain chemicals, and many other ways that we are still learning about. Most of the time, when things are running smoothly, the system of signals between the mind and body is automatic.
Examples of messages between the mind and body:
The brain sends messages to allow our body to do day-to-day activities.
When exercising, the brain sends messages to all of the muscles so that they move together in the right way. Messages are sent to the heart to beat faster so the muscles can get more oxygen, and to sweat glands so the temperature of the body doesn’t get too hot.
The brain sends warning messages to our bodies:
When you touch something sharp or hot, the brain automatically sends a pain signal so that you remove your hand.
The brain sends messages to our body to help us stay healthy:
Symptoms such as dizziness, unusual movements, nausea, and swelling can be a message that lets you know that there is a physical condition that needs attention.
The brain sends messages to our body when we experience an emotion
- When we are embarrassed or nervous, we may "blush"; our face might turn red or feel hot.
- When we are stressed, our brain sends signals to our body to increase our heart rate and breathing, tense our muscles, and empty our intestines. This is called the "fight-flight-or-freeze" response.
- The symptoms we develop can be a message to let us know that there is an emotional concern that needs our attention.
It is normal for the mind and body to be constantly communicating. The mind-body message system helps us do what we need to do every day. It also works as a warning system by producing symptoms that need our attention. All emotions have a “somatic” or body component. (Soma means body).
Somatization is the word used when stress or distress (positive or negative) is experienced and expressed bodily. Somatization is when your body talks for your emotions. Somatization is normal and is real. For example:
- Muscle tension in your neck when you are stressed.
- Butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous.
Everyone's body reacts differently; body symptoms are real and not made up. Unfortunately somatization can really get in the way of everyday life.
We can learn to develop an awareness of what is happening inside our bodies; by linking our inner experiences with our body sensations, we can start to uncover what our bodies are telling us.
By understanding that the mind and body are connected, we know that we can relax our bodies by relaxing our minds, and vice versa; we can relax our minds by relaxing our bodies.
One relaxing strategy that many people find helpful is belly breathing. Somatic symptoms and pain can leave people breathing faster and shallower, which can make the pain feel worse. Belly breathing is a simple technique that people can do any time they feel a symptom is coming. Or they may have other strategies already in place (e.g., making a fist when feeling as though one is about to faint).
Belly Breathing instructions:
Sit straight up in a comfortable chair. Put your feet flat on the floor and relax your hands in your lap.
Close your eyes or rest your eyes upon the ground.
Close your mouth and breathe in slowly through your nose. Count to three, imagining the three sides of a triangle, as you inhale. Hold your breath for three seconds to allow the air to fill your lungs. Concentrate on your belly and notice how it moves when you inhale. You can even place your hands on your belly to feel it rising and falling.
Open your mouth slightly and slowly exhale to a count of three, imagining the three sides of a triangle. Hold the exhale to another count of three.
Repeating the exercise two or three times will help you to achieve a more relaxed state. Different strategies may work for different people, so it is important to personalize and tailor your relaxation experience.
You may find other mind-body techniques, such as meditation, mindfulness, gentle yoga, massage, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization and guided imagery, can also help. Your healthcare provider can tell you more about them.
You can also read about mindfulness at: http://keltymentalhealth.ca/healthy-living/mindfulness
Mindfulness for teens is an excellent site about using mindfulness for reducing stress.
Pain BC’s Live Plan Be contains many resources on the Mind-Body connection, including breathing and meditation techniques.
Adapted with permission from Chapman, A., Vo, D.X., Newlove, T., Bennett, S., Israel, D., and Mohun, H. Somatic Symptoms and Somatization in Children and Youth. Retrieved: http://keltymentalhealth.ca/sites/default/files/kelty-somatization-brochure_final.pdf
Comprehensive, provincial-based information and resources on topics related to mental health challenges affecting youth and young adults.
A website providing resources for people living with too much anxiety.
Mindfulness is a powerful way to handle stress, and live life more fully. You can be mindful anytime, anywhere, no matter what you’re doing. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy to do, especially when you are stressed! This website provides information, tools, and resources to help you get started.
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