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You feel a swirling in the pit of your stomach when a brilliant idea hits you; You come down with a nasty flu after your pet dies; Your body buzzes with good news; Your heart literally hurts when you miss someone. Itâ€™s undeniable â€“the mind/body connection is real. How can we optimize and utilize this connection between what we feel and our physical well-being? Awareness of its power is the first step to harnessing the mind/body dynamic for a healthier and happier life.
A Mental Indulgence Primer
You feel a swirling in the pit of your stomach when a brilliant idea hits you; You come down with a nasty flu after your pet dies; Your body buzzes with good news; Your heart literally hurts when you miss someone. Itâ€™s undeniable â€“the mind/body connection is real. How can we optimize and utilize this connection between what we feel and our physical well-being? Awareness of its power is the first step to harnessing the mind/body dynamic for a healthier and happier life1.
How it Works
Stress doesnâ€™t simply feel bad, it does bad in the body. Stress triggers metabolic, physiologic, and behavioral responses in our bodies. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (glands producing our major hormones) and the sympathetic nervous system (managing our “fight or flight” response) react physically and bio-chemically to our thoughts and emotions. That means stress and other negative emotions, like grief and anger, create chemical and hormonal changes that can result in actual damage to our systems while joy, relaxation and love enhance and optimize our systems. Take two hugs and call me in the morning.
Embrace an indulgent state of mind.
Mind-body dynamics can also influence our resistance to infection â€“by increased antibody production (that kills the bad bugs), increased responsiveness of immune cells to infectious pathogens; by decreased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (cellular â€œhormonesâ€), and much more. Depressed people have elevated levels of pro-inflammatory substances. Since inflammation contributes to many diseases (there are entire ground-breaking books on this fact), a depressed mind can quite literally contribute to a diseased body. These are real, physical effects based solely on how we feel. Happiness and peace, on the other hand, results in low levels of inflammation and strong immunity. Studies have found, for example, that the experience of joy itself increased levels of a biochemical influential in DNA repair (Think anti-aging).
Relaxation and pleasure put the body in a healing state. Since mind-body therapies decrease the stress-response and enhance the relaxation-response, we can literally reduce damaging chemical effects on the body and decrease susceptibility to disease, via the mind.
A Brave Heart
Effects of stress on the cardio-vascular system are well-documented (though many experts suspect that stress affects other systems just as vigorously). Anxiety itself can triple the risk of mortality after a heart attack and can double the risk of a repeat attack over the next five years. Major clinical depression quadruples the overall risk of death in the short-term in post-heart attack patients. When individuals are confronted with a disease diagnosis, fear itself doubles their mortality risk (based on a study in The Lancet). These negative emotions: fear, depression, and anxiety, are often just as dangerous as the physical condition itself. And theyâ€™re hardly indulgent feelings to experience.
Mind your OM
Since the 1970s, when Harvard researcher and author of Relaxation Response, Dr. Herbert Benson, recorded meticulous data on the physiologic effects of transcendental meditation on the cardiovascular system: decreased blood pressure and heart rate, decreased respiratory rate and oxygen consumption â€“meditation has continued to show evidence of reducing stress and helping the body thrive. Similar results have recently been found with Qi-training (a Korean practice of mind-body control through sound, exercise, motion, and meditation), yoga, guided imagery, and many other techniques. AI will explore and report on all these and more in this Mind/body department.
The experience of joy itself increased levels of a biochemical influential in DNA repair.
The scientific evidence that stress, emotions, and mood directly and profoundly affect our endocrine (hormonal) and cardiovascular (heart) systems and our overall susceptibility to disease is becoming increasingly evident. While life-enhancing mind/body techniques are simple, enjoyable, and often free, an indulgent state of mind is priceless. So, take the time to indulge in activities and even just thoughts that make you happy and relaxed â€“consider it preventative medicine.
1 Januzzi, J et al. The influence of anxiety and depression on outcomes of patients with coronary artery disease. Arch Intern Med 2000; 160:1913-1921. (for data on post-MI outcomes related to depression and anxiety)
2 The Lancet; Dr. Deepak Chopra (secondary source)
3 Maes, M. A review on the acute phase response in major depression. Rev Neurosci. 1993; 4:407-416 and Sluzewska, A et al. Indicators of immune activation in major depression. Psychiatry Res. 1996; 64:161-167. (references for statement about data showing depressed having elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine levels)
4 Morikawa, Y et al. A cross-sectional study on the relationship of job stress with natural killer cell activity and natural killer cell subsets among healthy nurses. J Occup Health. 2005 Sep; 47(5):378-383. (reference for Japanese study on nurses)
5 Cherniske, Steven. The Metabolic Plan (book, reference for superoxide dismutase and joy). P.73.
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