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Health & Wellness

An Introduction to the Connection Between Physical and Mental Health

So much attention is paid to physical health in our country and too often mental health gets left behind. In truth, our physical and mental beings are interconnected to such a fine degree, that treating one without the other may be futile.

Many believe that nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind. When the body and the mind are in sync, our life is in balance. When the mind and the body are out of sync, our emotional and physical well-being may very well be at risk. These two systems are so interrelated that one glitch in our mental health can cause a physical cascade, and one glitch in our physical health can lead to mental health problems.

For example, thyroid disorders are notorious for causing anxiety and depression, and after a heart attack, many people experience prolonged depression. But the mind-body connection eclipses these two examples. Emotional upset including chronic stress is linked to an increased risk for many life-changing diseases and disorders including heart disease, diabetes, various autoimmune diseases, certain types of cancer, obesity, and so much more.

The reason? When we feel stressed, our bodies produce and release hormones to aid in the fight .

For example, when we are angry, our body’s chemistry physically changes. Anger and fear fuel the body with hormones known as the fight or flight response. Adrenaline courses through our body and we end up in a hyper-state of arousal. 1

man holding chest in pain

Health Detriments Over Time

In the long run, too much of these hormones can throw the harmony of our physical and mental health out of balance. Stress affects us physically by:

    • Altering our internal chemistry

    • Accelerating our heart rate

    • Altering our gut health

The counterbalance is that when we are filled with joy and peace, our body produces soothing hormones including dopamine and serotonin that help to slow down our body and mind. These happy hormones lower our blood pressure, make stress more manageable, encourage restful sleep, and actually make physical pain more tolerable.

holding hands talking

Placebos and Their Benefits

Do you still need more proof? Let’s chat for a moment about the placebo effect. There is no better proof of the mind-body connection than the placebo effect! Placebos are used in clinical trials for a reason—they are used to determine if a drug works or if participants in the study were just responding to a treatment. 2

But now we know that the ritual of taking medicine, even if you know it is a placebo, may still be useful. In a 2014 study conducted by Professor Ted Kaptchuk of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, individuals with migraines were divided into three groups to study this hypothesis:

    • Individuals received a drug with the name on the bottle

    • Individuals received a placebo with the word “placebo” on the bottle

    • Individuals received no pills of any type

At the conclusion of the trial, the researchers were surprised that the placebo was 50% as effective as the drug to relieve pain. Professor Kaptchuk surmised that the physical action of taking and swallowing a pill stimulated the brain to ease the migraine pain!

And if our brains can relieve pain without medication just with the power of thought—how much damage are we doing to our health with negative thoughts?

In Conclusion

It is clear that any health approach that doesn’t take mental well-being into health is bound to fail. Consider how you can make your life more enriching and comfortable to increase your sense of self. And the great thing is, by increasing your sense of self, you’re increasing your ability to not be affected by negative stress!

Photo credits: jesterpop/, Chaninny/

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