Yesterday I gave a brief talk to our detox group about an emerging field of science called, ‘Psychoneuroimmunology’ which basically investigates the relationship between your thoughts and emotions (psycho), the response of your nervous system to these emotions and the neurotransmitters released (neuro), and the effects of these neurotransmitters on the immune system (immunology). In a nutshell, this is the science of the mind-body connection.
More research is coming out these days to show that there is a strong relationship between mental/emotional health and physical health which suggests that when a person experiences a physical illness, their mental/emotional state should also be explored rather than ignored and viewed as an isolated and separate entity.
Below are 10 ways to reconnect with your thoughts and emotions. The first step to realizing how your thoughts and emotions are influencing your physical health is to pay attention and increase awareness of yourself. Feel free to try one or all of the following strategies. You will be most effective at reconnecting with your inner self using the strategy that you resonate with the most.
10 ways to reconnect with yourself:
- Take 15 minutes per day and do something nice for yourself like reading something you love, taking a brisk walk, phoning an old friend, or soaking in a warm bath.
- Commune with nature: garden/sit with your flowers, go for a walk, go to the beach, walk barefoot on the grass, sit under a tree or smile at the sun. Being present with nature and listening to the natural sounds of the world can help us feel grounded and put us in touch with our inner selves.
- Choose an activity like pilates, yoga, meditation, guided imagery, reiki, acupuncture or massage therapy to help manage stress and unwind from the business of life.
- Aim to participate in physical activity 30 minutes, 5 times per week. Exercise helps prevent many diseases, improves anxiety and depression and is a useful tool for relieving stress.
- Journal, start a blog or phone a friend. Expressing your emotions on a regular basis will assist you in the process of working through them and letting them go. Having social support and someone you can bounce your ideas off of or work through your conflicts with is valuable to a sense of well-being.
- Set short and long term goals for your personal aspirations. These can range from taking a cooking class, to changing careers or planning a vacation. Making your personal aspirations a priority is part of balancing the parts of your life. Breaking down your long term goals into smaller steps can make things more manageable and easier to achieve.
- At work or at home, pair up with people you like to be around and can exchange positive energy with. You can also exchange positive energy with your pets.
- Take control of your workplace, don’t let your workplace control you. For example, make your breaks/lunch time a priority and set aside your work. Schedule specific times to respond to e-mails and phone messages. Delegate as much work as you can, you do not have to do everything.
- Don`t be so hard on yourself and find humour in your life. Don`t be afraid to laugh at yourself or enjoy a good romantic comedy.
- Turn perceived `wasted` time into enjoyable time. For example, during the commute to work read a book/magazine you love, listen to an e-book or your favourite music, close your eyes and meditate if you ride the subway. Small acts you enjoy can be incorporated into the mundane things of life such as cooking and cleaning the bathroom. You can turn ordinary moments into extraordinary inspiring ones.
Questions for Self Reflection:
- What are sources of stress in my life?
- How does my body tell me I am stressed?
- What habits do I desire to change?
- What emotion is dominating my life right now?
- How can I express my feelings more effectively?
- What do I really enjoy and how can I incorporate it into my life?
- Who are the important people I want in my life?
- What am I thankful for today?
- What made me smile or laugh today?
- How can I make self-care a priority?
Resources for getting started:
Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine by Candice Pert.
I read this book in my second year of naturopathic college and it was a great combination of Candice Pert’s personal struggle as a scientist and explaining the biochemical evidence that a mind-body connection exists. If you are scientifically-minded and think the mind-body connection is all ‘hocus pocus’ this book is a real eye opener because it explains the mind-body connection using hardcore scientific language, rigorous experimentation and evidence-based medicine. Candice Pert is able to beautifully blend science and human nature in this book.
Mind/Body Health: The effects of attitudes, emotions and relationships.
This was one of our health psych textbooks at CCNM and I still find it a useful summary of research demonstrating the mind-body connection and its relationship to health and dis-ease. Some interesting points include the role of personality type, perceptions of the world and optimisim versus negativity on health status.
Staying Well with Guided Imagery by Belleruth Naparstek.
This book is a useful tool if you are a visual person and like guided imagery. When you use your imagination, your body cannot tell the difference between the imaginary and reality. Think about watching a movie. You are only watching events happen, they are not actually happening to you, yet you can feel what the characters are going through and you can leave the movie theatre feeling sad, happy, angry, scared, frustrated, or in ‘shoot the bad guy, let’s save the world!’ mode. Using guided imagery can help shift your emotional set point from a negative one to a positive one which leads to a healthier state of physical well-being.
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, Matthew McKay and Martha Davis.
I prescribe a lot of the exercises in this workbook to patients to assist them in identifying their sources of stress and patterns of reacting to stress. There are also great tools to help you develop effective stress management skills. Very simple and easy to understand which is why I love it!
Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
I read this book in my last year of naturopathic college and it really helped me to focus and stay in the present moment, ie to be mindful and aware of what is happening in the ‘now’ versus worrying about what I could have done better in the ‘past’ or what I plan to do in the ‘future.’ The past can’t be changed and the future is not yet here so all we have is the present moment which is where our focus should lie, as it is the present moment which is being experienced and shaped in the ‘now’. This book as well as Jon Kabbat-Zinn’s meditation CDs are helpful in shifting your attention to the present, therefore helping to decrease your anxiety about the past or future. There are even mindfulness meditation courses available which are very useful:
Mindfulness Meditation Toronto
Meditation for Health
Mindfulness Meditation Meet-up Group Toronto