Mind-Body Connection: Understanding the Psycho-Emotional Roots of Disease

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For centuries, healers have pondered the connection between mental and physical health. In recent years, science has begun to recognize the powerful connections through which emotional, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect health outcomes. As research in the field of mind-body medicine is finding, emotions and thought patterns can contribute to imbalances within the body, and therapies like hypnosis, visual imagery, meditation, yoga, and biofeedback are being used to reestablish balance and promote health.

The beliefs you hold about yourself and the world, your emotions, your memories, and your habits all can influence mental and physical health. These connections between what is going on in your mind and heart, and what is happening in your body, form the psycho-emotional roots of health and disease. Let’s take a closer look.

The mind-body connection happens on both a physical and chemical level. The brain is the hardware that allows you to experience mental states that are labeled the “mind.” This concept of the “mind” encompasses mental states including thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions. Different mental states can positively or negatively affect biological functioning. This occurs since the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems share a common chemical language, which allows constant communication between the mind and body through messengers like hormones and neurotransmitters.

For example, neurological pathways connect parts of the brain that process emotions with the spinal cord, muscles, cardiovascular system, and digestive tract. This allows major life events, stressors, or emotions to trigger physical symptoms. You may have experienced this aspect of the mind-body connection when you feel butterflies in your stomach when you feel nervous, or when you heart feels like it is pounding out of your chest when you are under intense stress.

These intersecting systems help to establish the mind-body connection that influences the maintenance of health or the development of disease. For example, emotions like anxiety can trigger increased stress hormones, which may suppress the immune system and set the stage for the development of infections or cancer.

The Impact of Vibration

Thoughts and emotions also carry vibrations that impact your biochemical, cellular, and overall physiological state. At a physical level, the body is made up of atoms and water, which are in a constant state of motion. The type of movement or frequency at which atoms within a cell vibrate creates a form of wave energy that influences their structure and function.

Science demonstrates that thoughts, words, and feelings can change the crystal structure of water and cells, which can change their function. Positive, kind, and inspiring thoughts and emotions vibrate in harmony with your cells since they share a similar frequency that allows them to function optimally. In fact, one study has found that the type of vibrations or energy patterns that are carried by certain words and intentions are able to cause physical changes in DNA structure, which affect how the genetic code is translated to make different proteins that become the building blocks of your body.

This may explain why techniques like affirmations and hypnotherapy can have such strong effects on the human body. Often, your thoughts are also expressed as words, which carry these energetic vibrations and are then put into action as repeated habits and behaviors that further impact health.

The Body Feels Emotion

Emotions like anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, sadness, resentment, jealousy, depression, and stress can manifest within the body and contribute to imbalance and disease. For example, you are likely already familiar with the way that fear can contribute to digestive upset or how tension can lead to headaches.

When you experience emotional states like sadness, joy, or anger, physiological sensations occur in different areas of your body. Scientists have created maps of emotions, showing areas of the body that are activated when study participants experienced different emotions.

This connection is multidirectional. Emotional experiences affect the way you behave and the physiology within your body. In the other direction, your perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes also influences your consciously felt emotions.

Stuck or repressed emotions appear to be especially harmful to physical health. One study showed that people who repress their emotions are more likely to have disruptions in the normal balance of the stress hormone cortisol compared to people who freely express emotion. Over time, chronic psychological stress can change the way the body functions at a hormonal and immunologic level, contributing to the development and progression of cancer and cardiovascular disease. For example, studies show that having imbalances in the way that the nervous system regulates the overall stress response, such as producing too high or too low levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine/adrenaline, may predict early death in patients with metastatic breast cancer.

What You Believe Can Lead to Disease

Due to this mind-body connection, the way you think and feel and the deep-seated belief patterns you hold can all contribute to the development of disease. If you do not explore and deal with painful emotions, they can create an underlying sense of anxiety, depression, or anger that can physically disrupt the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

One common way you may experience this interaction of belief and physical sensations is when dealing with chronic pain. In essence, pain is a combination of the physical sensations you experience, the emotions you feel, and the meaning of the pain has for you.

Emotional suffering, physical pain, and other sensations share similarities in their neural pathways. For example, feelings of anger or insecurity can disrupt the regular beating of the heart and the calm flow of the breath. This further activates the sympathetic nervous system in the same way that occurs when you are facing a threat, creating an even greater sense of unease and pain. You can see this type of physiology playing out in people with a lack of social support, who are more likely to have cardiovascular and other health problems than those with consistent and supportive relationships.

Another example of the powerful link between mind and body is that decreasing symptoms of depression may improve survival rates from cancer. Psychological support is important for dealing with emotions and changing beliefs and can help reduce depressive symptoms as well as inflammation. This suggests that emotional and social support positively impact mind-body health.

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Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit

Healing and preventing disease requires a combination of physical, spiritual, and emotional approaches. There are a variety of mind-body approaches that can help you process your emotions and develop inner peace and physical wellness like the ones I teach in The Whole Cure and accompanying Lifestyle Transformation Stress Management Program

To avoid the buildup of toxic emotions, you need to remain present and aware. Paying attention allows you to identify emotions as they arise, process them, and choose how you react. One way to effectively express, feel, and get your feelings out is to talk about them. This can be done out loud by speaking with a trusted friend or therapist—or on paper through a journaling practice.

Meditation is another valuable mind-body practice for becoming more present and centering the mind. A regular meditation practice is a particularly effective way to help the body modulate emotional responses and the accompanying neurochemical patterns that can otherwise flood the body with harmful stress hormones.

Other techniques that focus on the interaction between the body, mind, and behavior include:

  • Yoga
  • Pranayama and mindful breathing practices
  • Tai chi
  • Guided imagery
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Biofeedback

These can all be valuable tools for increasing awareness of the body’s biological processes, such as heart rate and breathing patterns, in order to help you become empowered to manage emotions and mitigate their neurophysiological impacts.

Using these mind-body approaches can help you regain control of your psycho-emotional health and create an environment within your body that supports health rather than disease.


Enjoy six days dedicated to total mind-body healing and get one-on-one guidance to help restore balance in all areas of your life at our intimate Perfect Health retreat. Learn More.


 

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About the Author

Jennifer Weinberg

Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine Physician and Author
Dr. Jennifer Weinberg, MD, MPH, MBE is a preventive and lifestyle medicine physician, author, corporate wellness specialist, blogger, and the founder of the Simple | Pure | Whole Wellness Method. Weinberg offers innovative online wellness and education programs for individuals looking for sustainable optimal health as well as health care providers seeking health communications support and corporations wanting to integrate a comprehensive approach to corporate wellness. Get a free preview of her best-selling stress management guide ...Read more