Can you really use mind body connection for pain relief? If you’re currently under stress, your body might be giving you subtle signs that are going unnoticed. Take a moment to notice your posture at the moment. Are your shoulders tensed up and close to your ears? Or dropped and relaxed? If you do feel tense, take a deep breath and drop your shoulders, feel the relief that engulfs your body. And if you’re currently relaxed, pay closer attention to your body next time you’re feeling stressed. Chances are your body is projecting how your mind is feeling. Noticing how your body changes during times of stress is the first step towards understanding the connection between mind and body…now you can see how stress can lead to shoulder, neck, and back pain (or far more serious ailments).
So what exactly does the mind-body connection boil down to? Emotional stressors can actually affect your biological functions. Meaning that the mental can affect the physical. Although it’s an idea that has been around for centuries and present in many civilizations, now science can prove the connection too. A quick Google search will yield countless scientific studies that narrate the connection between the two. And all this means is that we have to start being mindful of how exactly our thoughts and situations in our life are affecting our bodies.
One such article from the American Journal of Psychiatry does a fantastic job and detailing scientific evidence to help support the mind body connection for pain relief.
Emotions and how they affect the body.
If you’re human, like the rest of us, you’ve experienced some sort of negative emotion...it’s absolutely normal (actually weird if you haven’t), and part of the human experience.
Negative emotions can hurt our bodies in the same manner that they can wreak havoc in our minds. So it’s important that we don’t allow them to take over, but when it does happen, that we deal with it properly so it doesn’t further hurt our mind or body.
Throughout the day we tend to experience a range of emotions, and some of these we might hold on to and carry with us for a very long time. And this is when the issues start...
Stress and anxiety can manifest in different parts of you body. For example, some people will get stomach cramps or get nauseous when they start feeling anxious. Or completely lose their appetite. While in other cases some might have their muscles contract, or their body temperature drops. Stress can accumulate in your muscles, and give you a stiff neck or tense shoulders, but there are worse instances. In my case, my chiropractor made it very simple for me. She told me that everyone’s body deals with stress differently. Some accumulate stress in their muscles. In this case, you’re lucky, and your muscles will hurt. For some people, their stress accumulates in their hearts, and over time they run the risk of a heart attack. And in other people, their stress accumulate in their stomach, which might develop into ulcers or something worse.
Did she scare me? Absolutely. But she also gave me vital information that I unconsciously knew, but never applied.
It’s not for no reason that stress has been linked to heart disease, which is something that the current population in the United States suffers at large. Science talk: Studies show that high levels of cortisol, due to long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure, all risk factors for heart disease. Unfortunately, we, as a society, just live very stressed lives and most are very poor at handling it. Not through any fault of our own, but simply because this was not something that was talked about as we grew up.
Somewhere deep down, most of us recognize that, at least on some level. But most of the time we’re thinking of a way to solve the issue at hand rather than notice how it’s affecting our body...which is totally okay. Stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, and all the rainbow of negative emotions are okay to experience. We can’t be perfect...no matter how hard we try, and sometimes, “stuff” just happens and it’s completely out of our control. However, what is in our control is how we deal with the aftermath. And all we have to do is make sure that the negative emotion we felt doesn’t stay bottled up in our body. Always, ALWAYS make time for this.
You’ll also find that it’s a lot harder to pay attention to the cues that your body is giving you when your mind is riddled with stress and anxiety.
How do your thoughts affect your pain?
In the same way that the mind can affect your body, your body can also affect your mind.
When you think of healing, you have to go beyond the physical because only a combination of the two will lead to true healing.
If you love to run, but every time you do your knee starts to hurt, to the point where you have to stop running…that affects your mind. That frustration you feel, that limitation you’re experiencing can make you start feeling negatively about your body. “Why does my knee hurt?” “Why can't I do the one thing I love” If you suffer from chronic pain, everything can feel ten times worse, “Why can’t I be like everyone else” “Why can’t I live a normal life”. And once those thoughts start to accumulate, you run the risk of everything taking a turn for the worst. Depression, is not an overnight thing, it’s something that builds slowly and overtime, and it’s something we run the risk of falling into if we’re not careful.
Take a moment to think about this...The limitations imposed by your body can lead to negative emotions, and in turn those negative emotions further affect your body. A cycle that might be hard to break
How can we use the mind body connection for pain relief?
Be kinder to yourself - We start by being kinder to ourselves, and that we might not be where we want right now, but that we’re working towards it. It all starts by giving ourselves a break, and cutting ourselves some slack. The overachiever in us might frown upon this, but we’re looking to run a marathon and not a sprint. Focus on the things that you DO like about yourself, the fact that you are doing the best that you can, and remind yourself that you are strong in handling your pain.
Meditate your healing - In the book The Healing Self (which we highly recommend), the authors make a strong connections between the power of meditation to healing. If you’ve tried to meditate, and completely missed your goal, that’s totally okay! The mind is powerful, and although that makes it GREAT...it can also play against us and be a true adversary. So how do we get it to cooperate? A great start is by repeating a mantra, or a phrase, that will keep you focused for a few minutes. It’s OK to start by saying, “My body can heal itself” or even something as simple as “Today is a great day”. These words can help you to release endorphins in your body that can help to put you in a better mental state overall. Like everything in life, meditation takes practice and even if you only do this one minute a day to start off with your mind and body will thank you. Repeating that mantra while you begin meditation keeps the mind busy and helps you slowly enter that meditative state. We also recommend Satnam Meditation for anyone who’s just starting off!
Remember to Breathe - Stanford psychologist Gay Hendrisk wrote in his book The Big Leap - Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level - “ that fear is excitement without the breath”. When we are stressed, anxious, or filled with a negative emotion, we are often depriving the body from breathing. A simple, yet very effective way to help the body overcome negative emotions is to do some breath work. It’s free, easy, and highly effective. A very popular technique is to breathe in for 4 counts and release for 7. Repeat 3-4 times and that alone can be a huge help.
Yoga - If you’re looking for an activity help you become more aware of your body and mind, you definitely want to try yoga. Yoga and meditation can serve as the outlet you need to relieve stress and calm your mind, all while still exercising your body. There are many types of yoga and they don’t all involve being upside down, twisted like a pretzel, or being in a ridiculously hot room. Gentler forms of yoga can help to ease the mind by giving you safe and quiet space to let go of your daily pains through the help of a trained instructor/yogi. If you don’t like your first class or if you have gone to yoga but didn’t like it, try a new location or instructor since not every class is the same. The stretches and mild exercises are also a great way to physically get your body moving.
But beyond that we have to start learning more about our body, and our mind. Understanding how certain things affect us and how we can counteract. Once we see the connection between both, is when we can truly begin to heal. You’ll find that a simple breath can calm your anxiety and certain movements can relieve your stress. In this simple way you'll start discovering activities that bring you the most happiness. You’ll also begin to notice that sometimes the way you react to a situation can make a world of difference.
Now that you’ve read about the connection between mind and body, take a moment to reflect on how each is affecting the other in your life. But don’t stop there, start taking the steps necessary to make that connection and its impact a positive one. Let’s work towards being fully present in our everyday!
This blog post is not intended to substitute the advice of a medical professional. Please consult your doctor.
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