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The mind-body connection has been a matter of observation, study, and discussion for centuries at the very least. It’s often, however, overlooked by many. I want to address this connection on this blog because when we are addressing holistic wellness. It’s important to be aware how much our thoughts affect our bodies.
What Is The Mind?
I want to clarify here what I speak of when I refer to the mind. Many assume mind is equivalent to the brain. Here on the blog, I may refer to the brain as it’s physical self- the grey matter that sits inside the human skull. However, most times I’m going to speak of the mind as where our conscious and unconscious thinking, feeling and choosing takes place. I will be speaking about our positive and negative thoughts, thought patterns and how our mind/ thoughts affects our body.
In an article on mindbodygreen.com, neuroscientist, Caroline Leaf says, ” The mind is energy, and it generates energy through thinking, feeling, and choosing. It is our aliveness, without which, the physical brain and body would be useless. That means we are our mind, and mind-in-action is how we generate energy in the brain.”
How Our Thoughts Affect Our Bodies
Thoughts vs. Circumstances
I’m sure you have heard countless people, if not you yourself, blame the circumstances of their lives on their stress load and anxiety. It’s the negative things going on in their lives that give them a ‘bad attitude’ or ‘negative predisposition’. I’ve been guilty of it myself. And that’s not necessarily too far in the past. I may have been guilty of it today. But the truth is, it’s our thoughts about these circumstances that stress us or keep us in perpetual anger. It’s not really the circumstances or events themselves.
Our Mind Tracks Our Thoughts
Our mind is powerful. It takes note of all of our thoughts and tells the body what you’re thinking. I signed up for an online class last summer with a couple that were offering a free mini-course (to get you to purchase the very expensive much longer course) on mindset. It was really fascinating and I noticed a few things about myself other than the unwillingness to pay that much money for the next course. I started really taking note of the things I was saying to myself and outloud to others.
Are You Tired? Really?
I realized I said I was tired. A LOT. I mean I think 90% of the time when someone asked me how I was, my automatic response was, “I’m tired.” But at that time, I was sleeping better than I had in years. I wasn’t having as many night awakenings and when I did, I was usually falling right back to sleep. I was walking almost every day and things were going better for me from an overall health perspective than they had in some time. Yet here I was, tired. Or was I?
I realized I had conditioned myself for years, always focusing on how tired I was, that it was my automatic thought. So I challenged myself. I made myself stop saying it. I made myself say something different. And you know what? Within a week, I was feeling a whole lot less tired. Within a couple weeks, I was definitely not feeling so ‘tired’. And it lasted until recently. I’ve caught myself again. Of course, I AM having sleep difficulties again (of which I’m addressing with some of the things I spoke of in my post on sleep), and so my body DOES feel tired. But I don’t need to add to it with focusing on that thought!
Is That Person Really Awful?
Do you know that one person you sort of tend to complain about? That one that’s so awful? Are they? Or have we filled our minds with so much negative thoughts about them that we completely overlook all the good things and have a completely different (or at least somewhat) picture in our minds that contradicts who he or she really is? Do we perhaps take offense to things they do or do not do more so because of our mindset about them then the reality of the situation?
Is This The Worst Year Ever?
In general, no. I’m sure there could be some of you out there that have just suffered a devastating loss. I’m not speaking to you – if that’s the case you have my most sincere empathy. But many of us go around speaking, “This has got to be the worst day imaginable”, or “This year already totally sucks”. But does it? Or are we simply attuning to everything we perceive as negative and not taking the time to see the positives or remember the things that we still have that are simple, lovely, and marvelous?
Our Thoughts Affect Our Bodies
Sometimes, actually often, our negative thoughts influence how we feel physically. Our thoughts affect our bodies. Have you ever noticed getting a tension headache when you are stressed? Have you every been to the chiropractor or massage therapist during an anxious time and have them note how tense your muscles are? Do you seem to just get aches that come out of nowhere when you are angry? Have you ever noticed that whatever muscle or other body issue you suffer from chronically seems to just flare up for no reason but it’s at a time of significant stress? Take note of these things.
I used to get severe neck pain and back spasms. It was my husband who put the correlation together over the years that it was usually a few weeks before some annual family function. It wasn’t until I addressed these issues in various ways over time that I was able to deeply lessen that annual reaction. Our thoughts, how we handle stress and our experiences, affect our bodies.
What Causes Negative Thinking
There’s really no clear one concrete answer for this. Negative thinking arises from a number of sometimes very complex factors. It could be a genetic predisposition and a nutritional deficiency or toxin overload. It could be due to childhood trauma- even trauma that you don’t have conscious memory of (Check out the book: The Body Keeps The Score). Negative thinking could be due to environmental factors. The primary driver of negative thought patterns varies from person to person and current time of their life. There’s also a wide variety of types of negative thinking.
Types of Negative Thinking
- Overgeneralization – fixating on negative details and giving it an overblown significance.
- Polarized Thinking – looking at things as black or white, good or bad and never in-between.
- Jumping To Conclusions – making negative assumptions.
- Labeling – putting negative labels on yourself and others around you.
- Fortune-Telling – always determining that something will turn out poorly.
- Self-Blame – taking situations that have nothing to do with you and blame yourself.
- Mind-Reading – determining for yourself what others are thinking, and being certain it’s something negative about you.
There are plenty of other types of negative thinking as well. There are plenty of blog posts to be written in the future here. But I didn’t want to end today’s post without at least offering a few suggestions on how to handle negative thought patterns, anxiety or other things you may want to change about your own mind in order to get started on your wellness journey.
Changing Mindset Is A Process
Changing mindset is a process. Sometimes a long and difficult process. But it can be done. And it will strengthen your physical health. Here is a list of things to consider making a part of your wellness basket today – tools to help you along your journey.
- Journaling – Journaling is very therapeutic. Write about the things of your past and the things you are currently dealing with. Keep them in a safe place because you don’t need to share these things to be therapeutic.
- Gratitude Journaling – Keep a gratitude journal. Focusing on the positives can completely change a negative mindset when you learn to see what’s good instead of all that’s not. You can use a notebook or a sheet of paper for journaling, but I like this one.
- Engage Your Senses – Activating the senses can activate the limbic system which helps regulate emotions. Take a walk outdoors in nature. Make a cup of warm, aromatic herbal tea, listen to soothing music or birdsongs, indulge in a small piece of chocolate.
- Movement – Taking a walk or the simple act of stretching can improve your mood state.
- Quiet Breathing/Prayer – Taking 5 minutes to disconnect from the earthly cares around you and focusing on quiet deep breathing and/or prayer can relax the mind and body.
- Therapy – If the stress in your life is chronic, you may benefit from seeing a counselor and engaging in some therapy. If you have trauma in your life, it may be beneficial to see someone who uses EDMR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) in their practice. This is a specialized treatment for alleviating distress from traumatic experiences.
We will be discussing the all of the above in much more detail in future posts. Until then, please share with me: How much does negative thinking affect your life? Have you tried any of the above suggestions to address stress? How have they helped you? Are there other types of stress management you would like to see addressed here in the future?