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People who have good emotional health are aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They have learned healthy ways to cope with the stress and problems that are a normal part of life. They feel good about themselves and have healthy relationships.
However, many things that happen in life can disrupt your emotional health and lead to strong feelings of sadness, stress, or anxiety. Good changes can be just as stressful as bad changes. These things include:
- Being laid off from your job
- Having a child leave or return home
- Dealing with the death of a loved one
- Getting divorced or married
- Suffering an illness or an injury
- Getting a job promotion
- Experiencing money problems
- Moving to a new home
- Having a baby
What is the mind-body link?
You may already be familiar with phrases which describe the mind-body connection in day-to-day life such as something being a “pain in the neck” - it generally symbolises 'burden over mind'.
When we talk about mind, people usually understand it as a collection of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, memories, past experiences and personality that make up a person’s internal world.
Mind vs Brain
In colloquial terms, the words mind and brain may be used interchangeably but, the two are in fact not the same. While the brain is a physical organ, the mind can be described a virtual entity present within each cell of our body and extended to minimum 2 inches outside the body. That is why mind controls the body as a collection of thoughts, emotions, imagination and memories. When compared to a computer, the brain acts as the hardware while the mind is the software within it.
Is it all in my head?
Experiencing happiness or sadness not only affects your frame but also affects your physical health. For example, indigestion is commonly triggered by stress and anxiety. On the other hand, physical ailments also affect an individual’s mental well-being. Do you know anyone who feels happy when they are sick? Thus, the mind and body share a deep, cyclic connection. To be physically healthy is it important to be psychologically healthy and vice versa.
Emotions manifest themselves on an individual’s body in a number of ways. This ranges from changes in internal body temperature and blood sugar levels to hormonal imbalances and altered brain chemistry. Happiness and joyous emotions have the ability to boost immunity, alleviate pain and relax muscles while sadness and anxiety can increase heart beats, tighten muscles and dilate blood vessels. Over time, it can also lower a person’s immunity and make them more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. Anxiety and depression can keep a person from eating nutritious food and exercising and hence lower his or her overall health. Poor emotional health could also encourage the use of stimulants such as alcohol and drugs that cause weight fluctuation, insomnia, tiredness, weakened gut health, sexual problems etc.
How do your thoughts and feelings affect your health?
Your brain produces substances that can improve your health. These substances include endorphins, which are natural painkillers, and gamma globulin, which strengthens your immune system.
Research shows that what your brain produces depends in part on your thoughts, feelings, and expectations. If you're sick but you have hope and a positive attitude and you believe that you'll get better, your brain is likely to produce chemicals that will boost your body's healing power.
Negative thoughts and emotions can keep your brain from producing some of the chemicals that help your body heal. But this doesn't mean you should blame yourself for getting sick or feeling down about a health problem. Some illnesses are beyond your control. But your thoughts and state of mind are resources you can use to get better.
The mind-body link and your health
Some of the body’s systems are more affected by the mind-body link more than others. You may recognise some listed below:
- Digestive System Changes: It is common to experience an upset stomach (e.g. nausea, diarrhoea, bloating or pain) during times of stress. There are lots of nerve connections between the brain and the gut. In fact, the gut is sometimes called the ‘Little Brain’ for this reason.
- Skin Conditions: People with skin conditions, including eczema or psoriasis, notice that during stressful periods their symptoms can become worse and respond less well to conventional treatments.
- Heart Symptoms: Changes in the way the heart works are common in stressful or exciting circumstances. For example, stress or excitement can cause the heart to beat faster and raise blood pressure. These normal changes in heart rate and blood pressure as a result of stress can be concerning for people with or without heart conditions.
- Fatigue: Fatigue can also be affected by how we think and feel. For example, boredom can lead to feeling fatigued and sleepy whereas an unexpected piece of good news could give you a burst of energy. Fatigue can also be present as part of mood problems such as depression and anxiety. People who experience health problems may struggle with fatigue which is a combination of physical and emotional factors.
- Thinking Styles: How you think - your ‘thinking style’ - can affect how you feel emotionally and physically. Some common thinking styles make it seem very likely that something bad is going to happen. This can make you feel worried, sad or upset even though the thought is not true.
Below is a short list of some of the more common types of psychotherapy. Some therapy techniques have been scientifically tested on a large scale basis; while others are newer and often combined with more established psychotherapies.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
Using the mind-body link to help you manage your health
- Learning how to relax can help your mind and body. You can try different things until you find one that works for you. For example: Listen to relaxing music.
- Spend five minutes focusing on the rhythm of your breath.
- Try using prayer or meditation to relax.
- Imagine being in a peaceful scene, such as a beach or woodland. Notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
- Try not to rush around during the day. Leave plenty of time for your planned activities.
- Talk to someone when you are feeling stressed, anxious or down you might not feel like doing anything.
Thankfully, like physical ailments, emotional ailments too can be treated.