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I thought I had it together. That I was ok. My position at work was being eliminated and my best option was to retire.
I knew the day would come, but I thought I’d be the one to choose it. I wanted to make sure that my coaching business was established on a solid foundation. That said, I tend to stay too long in jobs and relationships. I decided that eliminating my position was a gift. (And it is.)
Why then did I have four colds in six weeks, each one hitting me harder? Why did the last episode cause a heart rate so high that I earned my first ride in an ambulance? How could it be that I needed three rounds of antibiotics to clear various infections despite my happiness at the opportunity to work on my business full time?
Apparently, my body responded to the circumstances differently than my mind. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the connection between the two was strong, but I was. I needed to listen to the message my body was sending.
How does the mind-body connection work?
To answer this question, we must spend a little time discussing how your body works. Don’t skip this. Bodies work more similarly than differently. If you really want to rebalance your wellbeing, you need to know how your body works. I’ll say that again. If you really want to rebalance your wellbeing, you need to know how your body works.
Let’s start with your thoughts and feelings. They are translated into chemicals that flow throughout your body, changing the chemical composition and behavior of your cells. This, in turn, affects the immune, neural, endocrine, digestive, and circulatory systems. How? Neuropeptides.
Neuropeptides transmit information through the thousands of receptor cells on each cell into the cell itself, influencing the behavior of that cell. (You might want to read that sentence again. There’s a lot happening with and to your cells.)
Neuroscientists know that the limbic system (comprised of the hypothalamus, amygdala, and pineal gland) is the emotional center of the brain.
“Neuropeptides provide the link between perception, feelings, and thought, on the one hand, and the brain, hormonal secretions, and every cell of the body, including those of the immune system, on the other, thereby creating a single whole-body communication system. In other words, each part or system of your body is listening and responding to your mental chatter, your every thought and feeling,” writes Deb Shapiro, author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind (2006).
When you can’t, or don’t, express emotions, you take that feeling deeper within you until it manifests through the physical body.
Is it my fault I got sick or can’t get well?
No. Invariably a combination of both external and internal causes creates illness rather than just one cause on its own.
In addition to the psychological and emotional causes of illness, there are external causes often beyond your control. They include environmental and genetic factors.
Environmental issues should be considered in every case of illness or disease because you can’t ignore the impact of air pollution, pesticides, processed foods, and other toxins on wellbeing.
Inherited or genetic factors are another undisputed cause of illness, however, genes alone do not determine your destiny. Other factors such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle create strength, resilience, and good health which offset the effects of genetic predisposition.
If you’re not well, consider repressed, ignored, or denied emotions. They drain your energy, go deepest within you, and need your greatest attention.
Acknowledging that your body is trying to say something is a great place to start. Healing almost always comes from the combination of both physical and psycho-emotional treatments.
Can illness be a gift?
By listening to what your body has to say, it provides a wealth of information. “Instead of becoming overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness and guilt that you are responsible for everything that is happening to you which adds to the negativity, you can see illness as an invitation and opportunity for awakening,” says Shapiro.
The body and mind show us where our strengths and weaknesses lie and where we need to bring rebalancing—essentials for a healthy, meaningful, and fulfilling life.
When I got sick multiple times as I was retiring from my employer of 30+ years, the stress in my body found my weakest point—my immune system. For someone else, it might have been the digestive system, nerves, or sleep patterns.
Upon reflection, I identified some feelings of shame, blaming myself for losing my job instead of accepting that the reduction in force had nothing to do with my performance. I was feeling emotionally/psychologically weakened but wasn’t aware of these deeper feelings until I caught four colds in a short period of time and took a ride to the hospital.
By bringing this feeling to the surface, I acknowledged it and set it free. The feelings of shame no longer fester within me causing illness.
How can you use the connection to improve your health?
Focusing on the mind-body connection improves your health by guiding you to dig deeper. To investigate symptoms, link them to emotions, and look for patterns.
If you experience headaches whenever something stressful happens, for example, you can work backwards to identify if an internal cause such as an emotion might be the reason. Could it be you ate too much sugar or questioned your abilities because your boss expressed disappointment that you were late completing a project?
Using the Body Awareness Checklist is one way to investigate symptoms, link them to emotions, and look for patterns. The checklist includes five thoughts, feelings, or situations that are often accompanied by physical symptoms. If you have others, feel free to add them. Then, document the physical responses you experience as an opportunity to dig deeper and learn more about yourself while positively impacting your health.
- The connection between mind and body is inherently human. We’re built this way. The only choice we have is to better understand the connection to improve our health. Without question, the mind-body train will leave the station. You can choose to get with the program and jump on it or watch it rush by without you.
- You can use the connection to improve your health by digging deeper from the symptoms to the emotions connected to them.
- Becoming more aware of the connection, asking yourself questions, and reflecting on the answers can improve your health now and in the future.