The Mind-Body Connection
Recently, I had a chance to speak about the mind-body connection before a group of people who came from non-medical professions.
At the beginning of my presentation, I asked my audience a couple of questions. The very first question was:
Do you believe in the mind/body connection? “I do believe in the mind/body connection,” was the answer for 60% of attendees people.
Do you know how the connection works? Only 40% answered in the affirmative: “Yes, I do.”
The third question was tricky: Do you believe that you can protect yourself from the negative impact of emotions/body connection, by changing your perception and behavior? Thirty percent of people from the group said “Yes, I do believe in it.”
From my personal point of view, generally speaking, people believe in the mind/body connection, but actually don’t know how it works, which is not a bad thing. The bad thing is that only 30% of the attendants believe in the possibility of changing their mental approach. In everyday life, 70% of these people strongly believe in the statement that they cannot change their mental nature, which is incorrect. How wrong they are!
If you belong to that 70% of people who don’t believe in changing their mental approach, please take a little time and read this article. Maybe you will change your way of thinking.
Now, I may have a hard time to convince you in believing in the neural/immune connection.
There is no doubt that the state of one’s mind influences health and plays a huge role in physical illness, making us sick, helping us to recovery, or enabling us to live well. We have known this much from the time of the ancient Greeks. Or, more accurately, we knew it, but we didn’t use it for a long time.
To continue in the same vein, I’ll give you the next fact: The human brain and the human immune system work together, signaling each other along the same pathways. Now, you know why one’s state of mind influences one’s health.
For 60% of my audience, I need to explain that communication between the brain and the body is by chemicals, communicating on the molecular level. This is a two way route. Chemicals, produced by the brain, send signals to the body (immune system) and, at the same time, chemicals from the immune system communicate with the brain. The same signals affect behavior and stress response.
This is a pure biochemical connection.
How does it work? Have you ever heard about neurotransmitters? I am sure that you have, but I am going to repeat the definition.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals, often amino acids, peptides or mono amides, which regulate signals between a neuron and another cell. Some of the most “popular” neurotransmitters are: acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin and glycine.
Any disturbance of communication between the brain and the immune system results in diseases. It could be autoimmune, inflammatory or infectious disease or it could be mood disorder. Personally, I was really impressed to learn that our state of mind can influence how well we resist against infectious/inflammatory diseases. Not only that, but our recovery depends on our state of mind. It is easy to see how impressive our mind’s work is.
For many years we have known about interactions between the mind (nervous system) and the body (immune system) along with the effects of these interactions on diseases. It’s a proven fact that the immune system is a target of signals from the brain and the endocrine system. Therefore, our experience, behavior, way of thinking and believing has a huge impact on the body and vice versa.
In essence, our immune system is listening to our mental talk.
When we are happy, our body is happy. When we are angry, our entire body is angry. There are messengers that literally transmit happiness, joy and positive feelings, and there are messengers that transmit fear, stress, anxiety and worry.
Next time, when you are under stress or are angry or worry too much, think about it. Stress hormones can change immune cell behavior and activity of the immune system. As we know, this is a two-way street: our behavior can change immune functions and immune response can modulate our behavior.
As human beings we have a built-in tendency to resist change, regardless if it’s good or bad. We called it homeostasis or equilibrium and this is a natural system that wants to maintain things as they are. Our body responds to any threat to disturb our mental, physical, or emotional balance. Any threat to homeostasis is a kind of stress. Body reaction comes instinctively, automatically, and spontaneously with commands from our autonomic nervous system (the brain).
If you believe that only bad things are stressor, think again.
Getting married, having a baby or playing a game of tennis are stressors causing the same response from our mind/body connection as loosing a job or money.
I don’t blame people who don’t believe in the mind/body connection. For many years, even scientific authorities were very skeptical. Actually, this is very understandable. The scientific approach depends on measurable evidence, such as abnormality of anatomy or physiology or any other visible evidence.
Now, we have molecular and pharmacological tools in our hands, including neuroimaging, with which to observe the living human brain with the nerve cells’ function. We can “see” biochemistry at work, or the nerve chemicals, including the electrical activity in the brain. Measurable proof is there and we can see it and believe it. Imbalance in neurotransmitters is real and measurable and results in disease caused by emotions. We can observe and explore sick emotions. Isn’t it amazing?
My intention in writing this article is to explain how strong the connection between our emotions (mind) and our body (immune system) is and how important it is to take care of our way of thinking. The failure to stop being an obsessive “what if”
thinker, or a depressed, angry or anxious person, leads to chronic tension in our mind and makes us really physically sick.
When we are loving and thankful people, with no jealousy and resentment, our own mind will make us well. Therefore, control your mood and behavior, slow your every day rhythm, exercise at least five times per week and find an engrossing hobby. Relax your mind by meditation, yoga or tai chi and your body will be thankful to and reward you with good health you keeping your health in good condition.
As I already said, our immune system is listening to our mental talk.