Self-Care: Exploring the Mind-Body Connection
When you feel at a loss of control over the circumstances in your life, it is common to be filled with self-doubt, anxiety, guilt, and a plethora of other draining emotions that hurt in more ways than one. Whether we are aware of it, pain takes on both mental and physical side effects. Muscle tightness, headaches, weight fluctuation, high blood pressure, and insomnia are just some side effects of persistent negative emotions–and since everybody is different, the symptoms may vary from person to person.
What is also true is that within all of us is the power to take control of how we cope with the circumstances life throws our way. And though we may always face hardship, the way in which we process it can help bring us closer to the health and happiness we all deserve.
What is mind-body medicine? Mind-body medicine is the practice of healing ourselves in both a mental and physical way based on the idea that every mental component has a physical component, and vice versa. And so, we can often address one by giving care and attention to the other!
Here are some suggestions of how to put mind-body healing into practice.
Breathing and Meditation
Have you ever thought about your breath? We all do it all day, every day, but rarely acknowledge the value of it. When we become aware of our breath, we become present in the moment, which benefits our whole self. Diaphragmatic breathing is a relaxation technique which is just breathing deeply from our lower bellies. While practicing diaphragmatic breathing, you can add visuals which help the mind and body to communicate and will help you reach a meditative state.
“Draw a Square”
Close your eyes, and begin to take a deep breath while counting to five in your head. While counting, imagine the first line of a square being drawn. Then hold your breath for two seconds at the end of the inhale. On the exhale, draw the second line. Continue this pattern until your square is complete.
Prefer visual aids? Here’s a video.
“Internal Body Images”
If you have an injury or are feeling pain in a certain place in your body, try closing your eyes and imagine that there is a warm light or warm colored light around the place in your body that is causing you pain. On your inhale, the light/color expands. On your exhale, it shrinks back. Imagine this light is healing. Imagine with each exhale that the pain is being washed away.
For more information on different types of meditation including, movement meditation, mantra meditation, and mindfulness meditation go here.
This is an outlet known to be transpersonal psychology . That just means that the active awareness we have while journaling can lead to therapeutic self-discovery. By jotting down thoughts, whether they are random or focused, on a specific event or general feeling, we can gain insight and clarity. This can help us clear away overwhelming thoughts that run through our heads everyday and cause stress.
Journaling initiates communication between your mind and soul, providing feelings of catharsis which help us to express our emotions. Because of the calm feelings that accompany journal writing, our body responds positively.
Do you have a hard time getting started journaling? Here are some tips:
- Get a notebook that you will just use for journaling, and something to write with
- Find a quiet or calming environment
- Center yourself — try some breathing exercises from above
- Label your journal entries so you can refer to them later
- Don’t judge or censor yourself
- If structure helps you, try to write for five minutes a day, or build up how long you are writing for bit by bit
Art therapy enables us to describe our feelings and thoughts in ways that words cannot. When we step back and allow ourselves to express, we may discover things about ourselves we may not have been able to access otherwise.
Here are some ideas that can help you to try out art therapy:
- Get some crayons, colored pencils, or pastels
- Never say you can’t draw! Art therapy isn’t about being an artist. It’s about expressing yourself
- Draw a picture of yourself
- Draw a picture of an area of yourself you feel needs attention; part of body, or feeling
- Draw an image of peace, a peaceful place, a place you would like to return to, or a place you’d like to go
- Draw how you feel in the moment
- Draw an image from a dream
Want to try a guided Art Therapy exercise?
Exercise and Nutrition
When we keep our bodies and minds healthy through exercise and nutrition, we lower stress levels, blood pressure, and we fight off possible long term effects of stress and trauma, like diabetes and heart disease. When we exercise, we benefit from the release of positive endorphins like dopamine and serotonin, also known as the happiness hormones. With summer coming, be sure to get outside. Walking, hiking, biking, and swimming are all wonderful activities which promote mind-body healing. Nutrition plays a large part in this as well! Be mindful of what you eat and keep in touch with the foods that make you feel good and give you energy vs. the foods that tire you out and lead to aches and irritability. What goes into your body is your fuel for living! Choose to live well
Chair yoga for people with injuries and disabilities.
TED-Ed video on food for mental health.
I hope you feel inspired by some of the ways you can promote healthy mind-body connection in your life. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone. I encourage you to discover new and different approaches to see what fits best for your personality, body, and mind.
Disclaimer: This blog is does not provide medical advice. The suggestions above are based on research and the works of other people.
Seaward, Brian Luke. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. Jones and Bartlett, 2014.