The Mind/Body Connection

Day from Hell

Doris Milgrom* woke up after a stressful day with tight muscles and body aches, “I knew right away it was because the day before had been one of those days where everything that can go wrong, does. My buttocks hurt and I realized I’d been clenching the muscles of my lower body all that horrible day.”

The Body Remembers

Doris’ instincts were good. Her muscles had borne the brunt of her day from Hell and her body felt the after-effects. As the pioneer of group therapy, wise Dr. Jacob Levy Moreno once said, “The body remembers what the mind forgets.”

Our health is, indeed, affected by our thoughts and emotions. This is due to the fact that our sympathetic nervous systems (SNS) are set up so as to respond to the situations we encounter in the course of our lives. It’s important to realize that we have the power to affect our health, for better or for worse, by controlling what we will think about and how we feel.

The autonomic nervous system is the translator for your body and tells it how to feel in relationship to your world views. The language spoken by this part of your nervous system is communicated to your body by hormones called norepinephrine and epinephrine which sometimes get lumped together and labeled adrenaline. These hormones are produced by your brain and your adrenal glands. When the levels of adrenaline increase, the levels of another adrenal hormone known as cortisol also increase.

Cortisol is the substance that gives you the push you need to get through a crisis, and that’s a good thing. However, if you stay high on cortisol for too long a time, your body remains in a constant fight or flight mode, the blood cells keep on pumping into your bloodstream to keep your immune system strong, and this begins, with time, to take a toll on your body with myriad detrimental effects on every system.

But fear can have a productive side in preparing our bodies for future events, for instance surgery or childbirth. The results of a study done at the University of Cincinnati Medical School show that pregnant women who had anxious dreams had easier labors of briefer duration than those women who blocked out their fears with happy thoughts. “It’s as if the threatening dreams are acknowledging the painful event that is to come, while the more pleasant dreams deny that reality, just as perhaps the woman who is dreaming them is denying the pain that will be sure to accompany the birth,” surmise Jayne Gackenbach and Jane Bosveld who conducted the experiment.

In another study, psychologist Anne Manyande of University College in Londone, measured blood levels of adrenaline and cortisol in two groups of patients both before and two days after surgery. The first group of patients learned relaxation techniques and had lower blood pressure, heart rates, and needed less post-surgery medication than the second group who received no such training. However, the former group had increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol as compared to the group with no pre-surgery preparation.

This suggests that our bodies need to be a bit worried and fearful before surgery so we can give ourselves adequate preparation for pain and disability. When we remove worry and fear, we erase, in part, our body’s conscious connection to reality and our unconscious tries to compensate in spite of our good intentions.

*Not her real name

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