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The Mind/Body Connection and How it's Affecting Your Health

Posted Oct 18 2008 8:14pm

Our philosopher friend, Rene Descartes, royally messed with Western Civilization when he proclaimed the concept of Dualism: that mind and body are entirely separate. Now, many years later, the West is still operating under this notion despite the fact that it is not true. Medical doctors and psychologists continue to be separate (and possibly downright warring) in many hospitals because we continue to negate the other fields expertise. Employers give sick days, but most people have to lie if they want a “mental health day”. The media is constantly encouraging us to have a healthy diet and exercise, but typically does not cover emotional and mental health. Despite the fact that Descartes left this earth over 350 years ago, his legacy lives on in many, many ways.

Why do you care, you say? How does this affect you? Because when we neglect this powerful, reciprocal relationship between our body and our mind, we neglect our overall health. Let’s explore this. It’s easy to see how the body can affect the mind. For instance, when a person is diagnosed with a disease, becomes paralyzed, or becomes disabled, typically he/she initially become depressed or begins the seven stages of grief. That example is fairly straight forward. But what about the other way around? Most people are aware of some of the ways that stress affects the body: in the long run, it causes blood pressure to rise and increases the incidence of heart attacks. But what about the consequences of stress that are less dramatic, but even more prevalent? Let’s use your own life as an example. Think about a time in your life where you were either incredibly stressed out or incredibly sad for a significant period of time. Maybe a family member or close friend died, you were at a miserable job, or you just made some huge life change. Now think about this: were you sick more often than usual during that time? Did a simple cold seem to last much longer than it typically does? Did you sustain any random injuries during that time? Did you feel exhausted even if you were getting enough sleep? Did it affect your appetite? My guess is that you answered YES to at least one of these questions and that is not a coincidence.

Just to hammer this home, let’s try this exercise. What if I told you that I know a woman whose diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. AND she engages in moderate levels of activity more days than not. Would you say that she is healthy? From the description I gave you, you probably would. But what if I told you that she smoked? Or that she spent at least an hour or two in a tanning bed every week? Or that the only liquids that went into her body during the day are coffee and Diet Pepsi? What if she barely slept because she’s always so busy and stressed out? What if her lips and hands were dry, red and cracked because she never takes the time to put on chapstick or lotion? What if I told you she cried several times a day because she feels so overwhelmed? Would your opinion of this woman’s health change? Of course it would. Health is multifaceted and by ignoring even one aspect of our wellbeing, we’re missing the opportunity to experience greater happiness. For the most part, are we doing Ok with our health? Most of us probably are. Could we experience greater happiness, less stress and increased health by changing or adding just a few simple things to our lives? Absolutely. My next post will cover what I believe, and research confirms, is a powerful tool to increased overall wellbeing….

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