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Ahmed Abd El Whab

What is the mind-body connection and why is it important?

Health and Wellness

The mind-body connection is the link between a person’s thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors and their physical health.

While scientists have long understood that our emotions can affect our bodies, we’re just now beginning to understand how emotions influence health and longevity.

The mind-body connection is an important component of holistic medicine, which is a healthcare philosophy that seeks to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms. Now more than ever, doctors understand the importance of a comprehensive approach to care that includes mind, body, and spirit.

The Science Behind the Mind-Body Connection
Sometimes referred to as the “body’s command center” or the “human supercomputer”, the brain is a remarkable and complex organ. But the brain is not a machine operating separately from the rest of the body—the two are deeply intertwined.

Scientific studies are constantly revealing that the hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) associated with emotion can also have physical effects. They can affect our blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns, and even our appetite.

Once thought of as a fringe science, research into the mind-body connection entered the mainstream only 30 years ago when David Spiegel, Director of the Psychosocial Research Laboratory at Stanford University, found that women with breast cancer who participated in group mindfulness therapy had less pain, improved quality of life, and even lived longer than women who received traditional medical care alone.

Since then, numerous scientific studies have examined the link between our emotional and physical wellbeing, and time and time again, we are directed to this close connection between mind and body.

How Thoughts and Emotions Affect Health
When we’re stressed, our body releases two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Known as the stress hormones, they’re supposed to give us a short-term energy boost (better known as an adrenaline rush) so we can get out of dangerous situations quickly.

However, you can still feel stressed even if there’s no “danger” to escape. Releasing these hormones too frequently can have negative long-term effects on the body, including:

Weakened immune response
Digestive problems
Healing more slowly
While the connection between stress and health is easy to understand, it’s harder to imagine that the way we think and what we believe can affect our health, too.

Negative thinking patterns—assuming the worst, jumping to conclusions, and self-criticism—can make it more difficult to deal with health problems. For example, a patient diagnosed with prediabetes may think “Everyone in my family has diabetes, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it”, even after being told by their doctor that prediabetes is reversible with diet and exercise.

This negative inner voice can have serious health consequences, and those types of thought patterns are difficult to break. That’s where mind-body therapies come in to help.

Mind-Body Therapies
Mind-body therapies are healing techniques that promote relaxation and encourage mindfulness. These therapies use the body to affect the mind, and vice versa. Some common mind-body therapies include:

Art Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Group Therapy
Guided Imagery
Music Therapy
Tai Chi
A holistic doctor can help you decide what combination of mind-body therapies are best for you and your lifestyle.

For example, if you struggle with negative thought patterns, cognitive behavioral therapy can help you reframe your thinking and give you a more positive outlook. If you’re struggling with stress, a combination of yoga and meditation can help you stay calm.