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Understanding the Mind-Body Connection

Zoe Mittman, LSW

Did you know that there is a connection between your mental health and physical health? This is called the mind-body connection. Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors impact your physiological functioning and vice versa. For example, have you ever noticed your palms and underarms getting sweaty, your heart beating rapidly, or your cheeks flushing red when you feel anxious or nervous? Has your stomach felt like it is in knots? If so, you are not alone. These are all common physiological symptoms of anxiety. Your brain is telling your body to prepare for danger. It is normal for your body to react that way when you are in a dangerous situation; however, it can become disruptive when your body starts to prepare for danger when in a safe situation. With that being said, when you are more in tune with the present moment and in control of your emotions, you can take steps to enhance your mind-body connection. 

Exercise contributes to an improvement in overall well-being. When working out, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters, which tell your body that everything is okay. Endorphins contribute to a feeling of positivity, strength, and productivity. During exercise, you are also focused on the present moment – your breath and actions. Whether you are lifting, practicing yoga, or doing a HITT workout, your focus transitions to your breath and heart rate. You are focused on the present moment. That is at the core of mindfulness. By being more aware of your thoughts and behaviors and living in the present moment, you are able to be in control of your feelings and live a more fulfilled and meaningful life. You are able to tune into your mind-body connection. Not only does your mental health improve, but so does your physical health. If this is something you are interested in, I challenge you to keep a journal of how you feel before exercise versus after. I also challenge you to rate your anxiety on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being the least and 10 being the most, both before and after exercise. Keeping a record will allow you to tangibly see the positive impact of moving your body, focusing on your breath, and living in the moment. 

Exercise is not for everyone. There are other grounding techniques – Find beauty in the small things. Whether it is drinking coffee in the morning, listening to your favorite music, enjoying the beautiful weather, or watering your plants, glorify the situation. Focus on the exact activity you are engaging in and nothing else. If you are eating lunch, just eat lunch. If you are doing laundry, just do laundry. While multitasking can be efficient in certain situations, it takes away from the power of the mind-body connection, as it does not allow you to live in the present moment.

 Consider trying a few of the other strategies below: 

  • Ask yourself: What are 5 things you see? What are 4 things you can touch? What are 3 things you hear? What are 2 things you smell? What is 1 thing you taste? This is called the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. It engages your senses and increases awareness of your surroundings.
  • Go for a walk without technology. Breathe in the fresh air. Notice what’s around you. Maybe notice something new that you have not seen before. Is it a building? A restaurant? A bump in the sidewalk?
  • Spend time in nature. Admire the natural beauty of the earth. The trees, the water, the blue sky, and the shining sun. Do you notice the waves crashing or the rain hitting the windows?
  • Make a cup of coffee, a hot tea, or drink iced cold water – savor the taste.
  • Label your thoughts as just a thought. For example, “I had that thought…” – develop the distinction between thoughts and facts grounded in evidence. 
  • Practice taking deep breaths – inhale and hold your breath in for 3 seconds. Release it for 6 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

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