A Health Psychology belief is with developing an understanding of how biological, sociological, environmental and cultural factors relate to physical and emotional health. Studies are beginning to explain that negative emotions such as anger, rage, depression, anxiety, jealousy and envy, have a connection to one’s physical condition. One common example of the mind-body relationship is when people experience anxiety or stress the blood pressure rises. Complete health depends on a healthy mind and body, and I will be explaining the basic understanding of this relationship along with providing a few tips to maintain health.
What is the Physical Connection between Mind and Body?
There is a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, the brain directly connects to the endocrine system, which secretes hormones or chemicals that can have a powerful influence on emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings that generate within the mind can influence the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect controls much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr. Goodstein.
Simply put, to be healthy people must take care of not only their emotional health, but also their physical health. If one is neglected, the other will suffer. People who visit their doctors reporting symptoms of headache, lethargy, weakness, or vague abdominal symptoms often end up with the diagnosis of depression; even though they may not discuss feelings associated with depression. While sad or anxious feelings may not directly cause poor physical health, they are certainly contributing factors associated with physical health and an individual’s quality of life.
The field of health psychology focuses on promoting health which includes the prevention and treatment of physical diseases. The Health Psychologists focus is on understanding how people react, cope and recover from illness, along with improving the quality of lives of people with chronic and terminal illnesses. When there is little hope of recovery, it is the health psychologist who can improve the quality of life by helping people work with the loss and recover at least some sense of emotional well-being. One other interest is with identifying the best ways for providing therapeutic services for the bereaved in coping with the loss of a loved one.
Tips for Taking Care of Emotional and Physical Health
- Take care of yourself physically. Many people do not understand the fact that when they take care of themselves physically, they take care of themselves emotionally. There is a relationship between neglecting the body and the development of emotional and physical problems. This neglect creates a toxic cycle. To end this cycle, strengthen the body with enough rest, food, and liquids. Make sure that there is enough air, nutritious food and exercise in your life. Warm and refresh yourself when needed. Eat right; a healthy, proper diet is beneficial for the body and mind. Research has proven that exercise improves mood and has numerous benefits for physical and emotional health. I am aware that this is limited information; however, many people do not understand these basic facts. People do not have to be perfect and try to not to let physical care become an obsession, which may then become a problem. Consider the fact that when people ignore the physical needs of their body this abandonment will create an emotional and a physical problem, which in turn creates a toxic life cycle. Therefore, people feel physically and emotionally unstable.
- Pay attention to body signals. When the body is in need of something, we experience feelings that correspond to what their body is lacking. One example of ignoring a signal is when people do not pay attention to hunger when trying to loose weight and they begin to starve themselves. This starvation, in turn, slows down the metabolism and will in the long run prevent weight loss.The body sends messages when to eat, sleep, relax, calm down, play and comfort ourselves. Go to bed on time. Loosing sleep is hard on the heart, may increase weight, and undeniably sparks up the crankiness meter. Do not ignore the protective bodily signals. Listen to what it is saying.
- Be socially active. The bottom line is that love and attention are almost as valuable as the air that we breathe. Most will crave it unless they receive it, so seek it out, for your emotional health. Take time out for relaxation and socializing as this is beneficial for emotional and physical health. Give and receive love and attention to both others and yourself. As quoted, from C.J. Lewis, “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives”. People are social beings from birth to death.
- Take care of yourself with relaxation. People should be spending a third of their time on leisure and/or play. Relaxation is another form of nurturing mental health as the mind needs the opportunity to re-charge. People also need time to process or understand thoughts and feelings. If people stay busy all of the time, then they are not giving themselves enough time to process and strengthen the mind and body. If a third of your time is too much to ask for, then at least set aside an hour or two a day, just for you. Set aside some time to relax and have fun.
- When you fail at something have the courage to try again. Everyone makes mistakes in life. Try to work at forgiving yourself for making those mistakes. Trying again improves self esteem and creates an overall sense of feeling empowered, which in turn increases endorphins, thereby lifting mood.
- Visit the appropriate Doctor, the one that is the perfect match for your condition. Going to the right doctor can make all the difference in overall health, especially if there is a complex illness that requires a specialist. Try to be open to seeing a mental health professional, if feelings and emotions are getting in the way of recovery.
How do people get in touch with their body?
Take deep breaths and listen to what your body is saying. Once people are in touch with the feeling, they then need to determine how they are going to manage or control the feeling. Sometimes feelings are not true or based on facts, and people can perceive situations incorrectly, as they are of the imagination. If the feeling is not based on facts, then attempt to undo this misperception, as people are only hurting themself. Try not to get caught up with feelings of shame and guilt as these emotions are a waste of valuable time and for most of us are by products of the imagination.
However, for short periods of time if the imagination or dreaming makes people happy, it is acceptable to enjoy the feeling. Just remember that this is wishful thinking and that people are tricking themselves into feeling pleasure. To learn new ways to cope with feelings, start with a small baby step. For example, if there is a problem with anger, attempt to be aware of the feeling, and take a few deep breaths before reacting.
Health Psychology Promotes Emotional and Physical Health
Health psychology principles’ and cognitive behavioral therapies continue to be overlooked by the general population and the medical profession. These methods require the physician to be aware of other successful treatment modalities. Health Psychology requires individuals to make a commitment to take responsibility for their own physical and emotional health. Until health psychology principles are accepted by the medical community and until the client begins to follow these principles, the emotional and physical condition will continue to ravage the mind and body.
In conclusion, unhealthy behaviors, from smoking cigarettes and poor diet, to living a sedentary lifestyle and having poor coping skills, are all significant factors leading to death and disability. Take the time to care for both the mind and body. People can make positive, healthy changes in their life by learning specific skills. Practice the above, few steps consistently in life and over time people will indeed notice improvements in their physical and emotional well being. This is the joyful news!
Dr. Cheryl MacDonald, RN., Psy’D.
Health Psychology of San Diego