Increase Energy, Decrease Stress: Understanding the Mind-Body Connection

Feb 14, 2024

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not simply the absence of disease or infirmity.” This implies that our health is not just about our physical state but also involves our mental and social well-being. According to Mosby’s Complementary & Alternative Medicine, “The mind is our most potent weapon in the battle for health because of a phenomenon known as mind-body dialogue. The mind has been referred to as both healer and slayer because what we think, feel, and perceive have profound implications for health and longevity. We can assist our bodies in the healing process, or we can exacerbate or create illness with what we express through the mind.”

Mind-Body Pathways

The mind and body communicate messages to each other through the Nervous System, the Endocrine System, and the Immune System, and these messages result in biochemical and physiologic changes that affect, and drive both health and disease. Let's focus on the Endocrine System, which is a major player in how we respond to stress.

Understanding Stress and How to Reduce It

People experience stress when the demands on them exceed their perceived capacity to cope. Stress can be managed by either decreasing your demands or increasing your capacity. Some common stress reduction ideas include meditation, limiting stressors, eliminating the word stress from your vocabulary, and choosing calm over excitement. It's also important to cultivate mindfulness, which is simple but not always easy to practice.

The Exercise-Stress Cycle

Exercise plays a crucial role in managing stress. When we begin to exercise, our body is stressed, and cortisol, the stress hormone, is released. The end of the exercise removes the stress, and endorphins, often referred to as the body's natural painkillers, are released, helping the body to heal. However, in some cases, the stress is not entirely removed after exercise, especially when the body is under low-level chronic stress or Type II Stress. Under these conditions, cortisol continues to be released, and the body remains in the sympathetic nervous system response (Fight-or-flight), which hinders the body's ability to heal optimally.

Implementing the Positive Exercise Cycle

So, how do we ensure we implement the positive exercise cycle? The first step is to look at the motivation for movement. Exercise should be viewed as a form of mindfulness, with the goal of connection as opposed to “work hard”. Challenge yourself in an uplifting way, not a punishing way. Stay present, focus on your breath, and choose only movements you enjoy or those you can focus on the benefit in the present.

Mindfulness: A Key to Stress Reduction

Mindfulness allows us to be in the moment with things exactly as they are, without trying to change anything. We become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It's important to remember that we often become insensitive to how our body is affected by the environment, actions, thoughts, and emotions. This can often make us feel out of control. Practicing mindfulness, by remembering with kindness and discipline to be present, can help us regain control.

The Seven Pillars of Mindfulness

The seven pillars of mindfulness are: Non Judgment, Patience, Beginners Mind, Trust, Non-Striving, Acceptance, and Letting Go. These pillars can help you cultivate a mindset that helps you deal with stress and other challenges more effectively.

Commitment to Mindfulness

Commitment, self-discipline, and intentionality are additional components of mindfulness. Mindfulness is similar to an athletic training schedule; it requires consistent practice. Try committing to mindfulness for 8 weeks and then decide if it's beneficial for you. As with any wellness journey, rearranging your schedule and priorities may be necessary.

Final thoughts

Identifying and replacing maladaptive coping strategies such as drugs, alcohol, TV, food, etc., with effective stress management techniques like mindfulness and meditation can go a long way in improving your overall health. After all, when you're washing the dishes, the goal should be to just wash the dishes. Be present in the moment, focus on the task at hand, and let your mind enjoy the simplicity of the act.