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Musings On The Mind-Body Connection

Musings On The Mind-Body Connection

Have you ever noticed how your face turns all red when you’re feeling a bit embarrassed?

Or how your legs go all wobbly when you’re nervous? And let’s not even start on the whole sweaty palms and racing heart situation when stress kicks in.

Ever do that trick where you pretend to bite into a lemon and can almost taste that sour zing, making your mouth water? Yes, most of us will start drooling just thinking about it. And, well, we probably don’t need to dive into what happens when you let your mind wander into, ahem, more adult fantasies.

These are all prime examples of how our minds and bodies are linked. It’s like your thoughts have a direct line to your body, making stuff happen without you even trying.

Now, I’m aware that some people scoff at the idea of a mind-body connection. I mean, it can sound a bit ‘out there’. I’ve heard the occasional comment along the lines of, “If this so-called mind-body connection is real, why can’t I just will myself not to get sick?” Here’s it’s being thought of like it’s some sort of magic trick right out of Harry Potter, or something that doesn’t really hold water. 

But, trust me, your mind is playing a role in what’s happening in your body right this second and every second of every day. Most times, we just don’t even notice it. Like, just paying attention to your breathing right now – go ahead, try it – actually changes blood flow in your brain. Crazy, right?

Breathing itself lights up loads of brain regions, but when you notice that you’re breathing – when you put your attention on it – there’s a sudden change and more blood flows to the frontal regions, just above your eyes.

Here’s another way the mind-body connection works. Consider someone you don’t really get on with. Just thinking about them can trigger physical changes in your body, thanks to stress. We all know stress feels awful, but it’s not the situations themselves that trigger those unpleasant sensations; it’s how we see them.

Imagine two people stuck in traffic. One is freaking out about being late, and the other is chill, thinking about happy moments with their kids. It’s the same situation they’re in, but their bodies react in totally different ways, all because of where their minds are at.

And let’s talk about placebo effect. That’s the mind-body link in action. Believing a pill will help you can actually make it work, thanks to your brain whipping up its own natural painkillers. And it’s not just about tricking yourself; it’s proof that belief really can physically change your body.

Suppose for a moment that you took a painkiller, but that it was secretly swapped for a placebo before you took it. Believing it will reduce your pain makes your brain whip up endogenous opioids. Endogenous means that they’re native to your own brain and body. But where the rubber meets the road is that they are produced because you expect the pill to help you. And they reduce your pain. This is how belief – and expectation – which is the motive part of belief, can reduce pain.

What about other examples? Now, I’m a huge fan of how love, compassion, and kindness can do wonders for us, physically speaking. These feelings and experiences release oxytocin, which is like a superhero hormone for your heart, keeping it safe from stress.

Research into this stuff really took off when scientists noticed that breastfeeding mothers had lower blood pressure, all thanks to oxytocin. It turns out that this is one of the physical reasons why having strong relationships can literally make your heart healthier.

Taking control of the mind-body connection is where things get super interesting. Athletes and even patients recovering from strokes have seen major improvements just by visualizing movements. And it’s because visualisation causes real, physical changes in brain circuits. And the amazing part? It’s like your brain doesn’t fully distinguish between imagining something and actually doing it. And so visualisation, just like real movements themselves, leads to real, physical benefits.

Some studies have even explored how visualizing your immune system fighting off cancer can bolster your body’s response alongside standard treatments. 

So, the big question isn’t if the mind-body connection is real – it’s how we can use it to our advantage to live healthier, happier lives. Pretty cool, right?

Credit

David R. Hamilton PhD
After completing his PhD, David worked for 4 years in the pharmaceutical industry developing drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer. During this time he also served as an athletics coach and manager of one of the UK’s largest athletics clubs, leading them to three successive UK finals. Upon leaving the pharmaceutical industry, David co-founded the international relief charity Spirit Aid Foundation and served as a director for 2 years.

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