Rhys Clark, Physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare

The mind-body connection

6 August 2019

What is the 'Mind-Body Connection’?

Are you familiar with sayings such as “making my blood boil” and “having a gut feeling”? These are examples of the inextricable link between body and mind, and how one can affect the other.

The brain and body are constantly sending messages to each other to keep us healthy. Our perception of situations may determine whether a stress response (known as the ‘fight or flight’ response) is triggered or not. This stress response is very useful in helping us to identify threats. However, if it’s switched on regularly, rather than occasionally, it can make it harder for the body to keep organs and systems working as they should be.

Having a stressed mind can negatively impact on your physical health. Everyone perceives situations differently depending on a variety of factors (past experiences, upbringing, genetics etc.) and where one person’s mind and body might react in one way, someone else’s may react in another.

How do the mind and body affect each other?

  1. Immune System
    The immune system may be less effective if your mind is stressed. One explanation for this is that the body focuses on the task it sees as most important (avoiding the stress) rather than using up energy on the ’business as usual’ functions, such as detecting and controlling infections. Healing may also be affected,with physical problems occurring as a result of the body taking longer to recover (for example, after a workout or an injury).

  2. Digestion
    Like healing, digestion is not as effective during periods of stress. This can lead to digestive discomfort such as abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea and bloating.

  3. Skin Conditions
    People with skin conditions, including eczema or psoriasis, notice that their symptoms can become worse during stressful periods and respond less well to conventional treatments. These flare ups can, in turn, increase stress, creating a vicious cycle. For example, people may worry about their skin’s appearance and how others will view them, or be bothered by uncomfortable itching and the urge to scratch. These stresses can perpetuate the problem; in some cases upsetting the skin further or stopping it calming down as quickly.

  4. Pain
    Pain is a complex experience which can sometimes be difficult to understand and treat. It cannot be seen on a scan and is subjective. It is both a physical and emotional experience. The mind and body can be affected by pain. Some pain conditions, such as migraines, can be triggered in some individuals by physical and emotional stress.

  5. Fatigue
    Commonly, fatigue follows physical activity, lack of sleep or long periods of wakefulness. Fatigue can also be a symptom of certain health conditions, as well as being a side-effect of some medications. And as in the examples above, 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 us a burst of energy.
Richie Norton Headstrong for AXA PPP

Are you Headstrong?

We’re familiar with activities that promote our physical wellbeing. But what about our mental wellbeing? Headstrong helps you to look at your mental and physical health as one.

Try a Headstrong workout

Top tips to soothe a stressed mind and potentially improve physical symptoms

Get the fundamentals right! – Things like having a healthy, balanced diet, a good sleep routine, keeping hydrated and making time for things you enjoy will have a positive effect on your mind and body.

Relaxation – Having a bath, listening to calming music or practising meditation can help you to feel less tense and more at ease. It can also cause other physical changes, such as lower heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure, which will also reduce the risk of physical diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Take a look at our article on Self-care for more on the importance of slowing down occasionally and tips on taking time out to boost your health and wellbeing.

Exercise – Exercise classes, walking or even using the stairs more often have physical and emotional wellbeing benefits. Chemicals called endorphins make you feel happy; these are released and taken up by the brain during exercise. If you want to enjoy the benefits first hand, check out our Exercise and fitness centre, where you’ll find plenty of practical tips, information and inspiration to get you moving more and keep you motivated along the way.

Awareness – Being aware of your mind and body can help you to improve your health and wellbeing in a timely manner. Being overly occupied, however, can make it hard to focus, as well as causing unnecessary worry and distress, which could make your physical symptoms feel worse. Try focusing on what you can hear and see in the world around you. Mindfulness can be a great method to bring your mind into the present and accepting your mind and body experience non-judgementally. Here are some mindfulness tips to get you started, or for something a little different, try our raisin meditation exercise!
Mindful breathing tips
Raisin meditation mindfulness exercise

Connection – Connect with others and enjoying time with friends and family can make us feel happier and more at ease. Talking to someone about your health and symptoms can also really help. Even though this can feel daunting, having someone listen to how you are feeling can be beneficial.

The mind and body are inextricably linked, so look after both for good health. If you have any concerns about your mind or body, speak to your GP or a healthcare professional.

Additional resources

#Headstrong is our new initiative, developed in conjunction with Richie Norton, Founder of the Strength Temple, to encourage people to work on their mental fitness in the same way they would their physical fitness. Visit the campaign site to found out more about this ‘one health’ approach and access a series of bespoke exercise, created by Richie, that use a combination of breathwork and movements to nourish your mental wellbeing and optimise your physical performance.

References

Mind-body link – King’s College London
Physical health and mental health – Mentalhealth.org.uk