The Mind Body Connection with Emotions – Skill #8

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The Mind Body Connection is powerful; our emotions are stored not only in our brain, but in our bodily response. When we have a strong emotion, our body has a physical reaction. Emotions can seem trapped in our body when we have a chronic stress response, or other hurts. In this section you’re going to learn how to improve your mental health by working with emotions in the body. 

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Why The Mind Body Connection Matters

“The body keeps the score” – Bessel Van Der Kolk

Did you know that people with Dissociative Identity Disorder, that’s what used to be called multiple personality disorder, when they switch personalities, their different personality states can have completely different physical differences?  Studies have shown that alter personalities may have different allergies, different blood pressure and hormones, they can have different vision – one alter may need glasses while the core personality doesn’t.  They’ve been able to show through imaging that they have different blood flow, and activity in the brain

This idea of the mind body connection isn’t just some woo-woo hippie idea, our emotions directly impact our body, our physiology, our physical being, and can directly impact our brain and emotions. 

In this section, you’re going to learn about the mind body connection, the physical impact of emotions, and this is really important, because if we want to change how we feel, if we want to change how we think and how we live our lives, we need to learn how to resolve emotions that get trapped in the body.

Everyday Evidence of the Mind Body Connection

Back when I was in college I did something that inadvertently really hurt one of my best friends.  She was so upset at me and she sent me a nasty email, and I felt terrible about it.  I became physically sick, my stomach hurt, I developed diarrhea, I couldn’t sleep, my tear ducts opened up, my hands got cold and sweaty, after a while I was physically exhausted.  As part of my emotional response, I had a strong physical reaction.

Almost everyone has had this feeling after a strong emotional experience, but most people have zero education about what to do about it. 

Emotions are as much in the body as in the mind.  But, as you’re going to learn in my next section, strong emotions make it hard to think clearly.  If we want to learn to process through and resolve intense emotions, we have to learn to soothe our body first.

Listen to some common ways to talk about how we feel:

“My boss is a pain in the neck.”

“My coworker gives me a headache.”

“My ex-boyfriend makes me sick to my stomach.”

“I’ve got a broken heart.”

“I’m so tired of dealing with this.”

“He got cold feet.”

“My heart’s pounding with excitement.”

“That sent a shiver down my spine.”

Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, and Other Mental Illnesses All Have Physical Symptoms.

Take a look at the 9 symptoms of depression, you only need 5 to qualify for a diagnosis, four of the symptoms are physical.  We often think of depression as something in our mind, but it’s just as much in our body. 

    1. Depressed or irritable mood
    2. Loss of interest or pleasure
    3. Weight loss or gain
    4. Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
    5. Psychomotor retardation or agitation
    6. Fatigue
    7. Feeling worthless
    8. Decreased concentration
    9. Thoughts of suicide

Many of our thoughts, emotions and actions, are rooted in a deeper part of our brains and bodies that are not part of our conscious thinking process.  The Fight/Flight/Freeze response comes from deep parts of our brain and body, deep knowledge that is subconscious.  We have many, many more instincts that are also not part of our conscious reactions.  There’s some really cool research showing that emotions and memories are stored in the stomach, glands, heart and other muscles (think your jaw or neck or back pain), and throughout the body. 

Mind Body Connection Research

Look at this fascinating research that explored where people experience emotions in their body: 

mind body connection therapy in a nutshell

There is also very rigorous research showing the links between stress and physical illness, like cancer, heart attacks, decreased immunity, and all others.  We really cannot separate the mind from the body, they are intricately connected. 

When we learn to notice the physical aspect of emotions, that gives us a key to working through them, and just because our emotions are in our bodies and sometimes get stuck, doesn’t mean they have to be trapped there forever. 

Not only does the mind lead to how our body feels, but how our body feels can lead to how our mind feels.  There are some simple physical changes we can make to improve our ability to resolve emotions.

Bottom-Up Approach

When we change our thinking, or emotions, we can change the physiological responses. This is called a “Top-Down approach”.  We can also take a “Bottom-Up” approach to improving our mental health by accessing our brain through our bodies. 

So let me show you a simple way; Lean into an area of tension. Let’s do it with the shoulders, don’t resist your tension, just exaggerate it a little, and then consciously soften.  You can do this with your face, with your hands, with your breathing.  Small changes in our physical habits can create big changes in our brains.

Physical Habits That Can Improve Your Mind Body Connection

  • Yoga– Yoga has been shown to be more effective at treating PTSD than any medication. 
  • Posture– Sitting upright can help you feel happier and more assertive.
  • Smiling– Smiling can sometimes make you feel happier. 
  • And most importantly, learning to regulate the nervous system– which you’re going to learn in the next 4 Sections. 

Two really simple skills that can make a big difference are Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and a Body Scan exercise, both of which are in this course, and both of which are on my channel. 

My Change Your Brain course also teaches simple physical changes that we can make to improve our ability to resolve emotions.

  • Sleep– in one study 87% of people with depression and sleep issues, once they resolved their sleep issues their depression went away. Check out my video on Sleep Hygiene
  • Exercise– which has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants at treating depression- Check out my exercise handout in the resources section
  • Nutrition
  • Exploring underlying medical conditions- that may contribute to depression or anxiety. 

Small changes make a big difference.  Anything you can do to improve your physical health can improve your mental health.  Take a look at your physical health.  Is there one small change you can make now?  Cutting out Caffeine?  Start taking some vitamin supplements?  Walk around the block once a day?  Getting a little more sleep?  Small changes like this can make a world of difference for our mental and emotional health. 

How Can You Improve your Mind Body Health?

Small changes make a big difference.  Anything you can do to improve your physical health can improve your mental health.  Take a look at your physical health.  Is there one small change you can make now?  Cutting out Caffeine?  Start taking some vitamin supplements?  Walk around the block once a day?  Getting a little more sleep?  Small changes like this can make a world of difference for our mental and emotional health. 

References:

DID Fact Sheet

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/j229v03n01_06

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3896150/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26401657/

 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8888853/

 http://namimi.org/mental-illness/dissociative-disorder/didfactsheet

 Gupta, M. A., & Pur, D. R. (2018). Obstructive sleep apnea severity in dissociative identity disorder can vary significantly depending upon the autonomic activation status of the personality that has executive control. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 14(9), 1633-1633.

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