What is the connection between your Mind and your Body?

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When left unexpressed and unresolved, emotions such as anger, hostility and feelings of loss and stress are dangerous to your health. So are feelings of powerlessness.

Example: A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people who had little or no control over their jobs reported feeling “helpless and powerless” and were more likely to develop heart problems and elevated blood pressure levels.

Though feelings of anxiety will arise, they can be managed so that your health is not compromised by them.

Why palms sweat

Our minds have greater influence over our well-being than most of us realize. The human brain produces chemicals called neuropeptides messengers that deliver information to various parts of the body. The medical world recently discovered that neuropeptides are also produced outside the brain in tissues, organs and even in the immune system’s white blood cells. Neuropeptides, nerves and other neurotransmitters link every part of the body, creating a kind of inner conversation. What happens in one area or organ can affect numerous other organs.

Example: If you are about to give a speech and are feeling nervous, your brain may send neuropeptides carrying an anxiety-provoking message to your stomach (creating butterflies). In turn, your stomach may send similar messages to the back of your neck (triggering stiffness), your heart (causing palpitations) and your hands (resulting in sweaty palms).

Medical researchers now recognize that it is impossible to separate the mind’s health from the body’s health. What you believe, think or feel will affect your body in the short and long term, and a growing number of experts strongly suspect that you can use your mind not only to ward off illness but also to heal yourself when you get sick.

Using your mind

• Tap into your power of choice

To combat feelings of helplessness and powerlessness in the workplace, in personal relationships or in your health care make informed, intelligent choices.

Example: In the area of health care, it is crucial to realize you can’t allow yourself to be helpless, relying on practitioners or institutions to make the best choices for you or to ensure your long-term health. You need to take charge.

When you see your doctor, make sure you’re armed with information about your condition. Visit your public or hospital library and read medical journal articles.

By making informed choices in every area of your life and by acting rather than being acted upon you will gain that important sense of control.

• Listen to and trust your body

Each day, I see patients who complain of sore throats or colds that just won’t go away. When I ask them, Have you taken time off work to get well? The answer is almost always, No.

Too often our “intelligent” mind tells us we absolutely must finish a project at work or we must devote a Saturday afternoon to coaching our child’s soccer team, even though we’re exhausted. We ignore the signals sent by our bodies and our more intuitive and wiser minds.

Symptoms of illness may be more than signs of a physical problem. Often, they are a signal that something is out of sync in your life, that some aspect of your approach to life needs changing.

If you’re chronically tired or sluggish, your body may be telling you to exercise more or change your diet or simply unplug your phone and crawl into bed for a healing rest. When you learn to listen to and trust the messages your body sends, you will be taking an important step toward achieving optimal health.

• Give your mind a rest

Just as your body needs sleep for renewal and optimal health, your mind needs periods of quiet and solitude. A quiet mind reveals important things about your life, changes you may need to make to create a healthier and richer lifestyle. Inner information such as this cannot break through constant mental chatter. A period of solitude “recharges” the brain and the body.

Helpful: I often tell people, especially working parents, to take a half day off from work or spend a Saturday alone or go to a retreat or spa for a weekend and reflect, read, walk or listen to music.

• Confide in a friend and/or keep a journal

When you think only about your problems, it’s likely that you’ll end up obsessing about them and feeling even more stressed.

Helpful: Spend time with a trusted friend, sharing your innermost fears, your sadness over the loss of a loved one or your feelings of anger or bitterness about a problem at work. Research shows that something as simple as social support greatly enhances one’s health.

Or spend 15 to 20 minutes every evening writing in a journal. Research shows that talking with a close friend about your feelings or writing them down greatly relieves stress. Writing also imposes order on a particular situation, so you are more able to resolve problems.

I’ve kept a journal for 20 years and when I look back on what I’ve written, I discover thought and behavior patterns good ones and bad ones. I see decisions I’ve made and directions I’ve taken. Often I realize that I need to change certain patterns in order to achieve a more truly healthful life.

• Look for meaning in every part of your life

Finding meaning in one’s life, studies show, is an essential part of good health. While it’s easy to discover meaning in the positive aspects of your life, such as your loving relationship with your children and joy in your work, it is difficult to find meaning and purpose in life’s difficulties and crises.

When you face a difficult situation at work or in a personal relationship, rather than feeling powerless or angry or resentful, ask, is there something I can learn from this situation?

When you find positive meaning in every aspect of your life and start to realize that there is a greater force operating, you begin to develop the spirituality essential for true health.

• View health as a lifelong process

Most of us think of “health” as the absence of disease. But health is much more than being symptom-free and more than fixing what’s broken. Everything we do, feel or experience plays a role good or bad in our health.

I like to think of health as an art a lifelong process of developing, shaping and composing our lives.

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