The Inevitable Mind-Body Connection

Why is it important to know that the mind and the body are interrelated? Why should I know about this in order to increase my overall health?

The anatomical and physiological knowledge of the human body has exploded in recent years with the implementation of the scientific method. Because of this, physicians are now able to specialize in several disciplines, including cardiology, gastroenterology, and pulmonology, among several others. People spend several years studying the human body overall and then spend an additional four to seven years in a residency to specialize in these organ systems, all because there is so much to learn just about these organ systems themselves.

There are also disciplines pertaining to the brain, which include psychiatry and neurology. These are no exception to the explosion of knowledge that has happened within the field of medicine and healthcare.

Even with this increased knowledge of how each component of the organ system works individually, we still do not overly stress how they all interact with each other. This is perhaps because there are simply too many interactions occurring in even a single moment to track everything that is going on in the human body. For this reason, it was more manageable to understand the human body overall by studying its component parts.

The human body, however, is much more complicated than even the most experienced physicians can begin to fully understand due to these interactions, on top of accounting for physiological individuality between people. However, just because something is more difficult to understand does not mean that it should not be investigated more.

This is how I approach my current understanding of the mind-body connection. While we are still only scratching the surface of how something like our thoughts tie into our overall physical health, it is important that this complicated relationship is investigated more. While there is still work to be done, at least there is stronger support for the view of monism than there used to be. Monism is the belief that the mind and the body are one collective entity, while dualism is the belief that the mind and the body are entirely distinct entities. Dualism was once a widely held belief. This was in large part due to the influence of the famous philosopher Rene Descartes, who asserted this view in several of his writings. Through this, he was able to convince several followers that dualism is true. Several theories of religion also preach an entirely distinct soul that is not subject to the physical laws of the body.

Because of the limited nature of knowledge at the time, dualism was understandably a position that many people took in this debate. Today, however, there is strong support from the field of health psychology that thoughts associated with the mind actually have a measurable impact on physiological processes. For example, distressing thoughts usually attributed to the soul cause our arteries to constrict and increase blood pressure. Prolonged blood pressure due to these thoughts can lead to arterial damage, and in turn increase an individual’s risk for heart attack. Distressing thoughts can also weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off infections, as well as increase blood sugar in the body, putting an individual at risk for type-2 diabetes. For more information on how the mind effects the body, feel free to take a look at the following link: https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1

This also works in the other direction, with the body impacting the thoughts of the mind. Someone who has recently suffered a heart attack may become more anxious because they are afraid of a subsequent episode. This can lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression in the individual, just to name one example.

What this should illustrate is that our thoughts have an impact on our physical health, and vice versa. Therefore, if we aim to be healthy overall as people, it is important to consider both mental health and physical health equally. As of now, it seems as if physical health is emphasized more than mental health, but as you can see with the above examples, being mindful of our thoughts can be a valid preventative approach to some common physical conditions. This is why it is important to understand that the mind and the body are indeed intertwined and not distinct entities. With this knowledge, we can take steps towards healing people mentally as well as physically in order to achieve the overall goal of health and well-being.

This is in large part why I try my hardest to advocate for the power of positive psychology and PERMA theory; because having positive thoughts can increase your health overall. We also all want to live a meaningful and fulfilling life, and so theories like PERMA (see “Power of Positive Psychology” post, link below) can help to accomplish this feat, while also addressing mental and physical health. Without the acknowledgment of the mind-body connection, however, our current understandings of PERMA and physical health would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to understand. This is why I thought it was important to write on this topic today.

I’m sure this is a very loaded topic for many people, so if you have any questions or contributions to the content, I am happy to discuss them with anybody. Feel free to comment below with any thoughts. I hope you are all doing well and staying healthy both physically and mentally!

Link for “The Power of Positive Psychology” post:

theinquisitivemind.home.blog/2019/08/12/the-power-of-positive-psychology/

You can also look at the original source for PERMA theory here:

https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma-theory-well-being-and-perma-workshops

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