How Our Students Learn About the Mind-Body Connection

Did you know…your immune system’s ability to heal your body is linked to your state of mental wellness.  In fact, your level of optimism and your expectations of what could happen can affect what goes on inside your whole body.  Over the past 20 years, medical science has made great strides in understanding how our thoughts, expectations, and emotions affect our health.  The study of how our psychological processes affect the nervous and immune systems of our body is called Psychoneuroimmunology or PNI.   PNI takes a holistic approach to health when assessing a person’s state of health. shutterstock_107396864

On a typical day in the brain, trillions of messages are being sent and received. The messages that are happy messages are carried by the brain’s “Happy Messengers”. Other messages that are gloomy or unsettling are carried by the brain’s “Sad Messengers”.  Most nerve centers receive input from both types of messengers throughout the day and as long as this input is balanced, all remains well.

“Happy Messengers” or chemicals created in the brain include Serotonin, Noradrenalin and Dopamine.  SEROTONIN, lets you sleep and sets your body clock so all the various functions of your body are well coordinated.   NORADRENALIN, has many important functions in the body’s nervous system and is essential for us to feel energized.  DOPAMINE is our body’s naturally occurring mechanism for regulating pain and pleasure.  Concentrated in areas of the brain immediately adjacent to where the major Endorphin releasing mechanisms lie, Dopamine allows you to enjoy life.  If Dopamine function declines, Endorphin function also declines, causing the loss of your body’s natural “pain killer.

When too much stress is experienced, these Happy Messengers begin to fail and important nerve centers then receive mostly SAD MESSAGES.  When this happens the person enters a state of brain chemical imbalance known as – OVERSTRESS.   When overstress occurs, the body’s chief stress fighting hormone, CORTISOL, is secreted eliciting our fight or flight response (the sympathetic nervous system).  This wreaks havoc on the entire system resulting in an inability to sleep well, an increase of body aches & pains, and a lack of energy and enjoyment of life.  People experiencing chronic overstress feel over-whelmed, depressed, anxious, or just unable to cope with life.  The amount of stress one can tolerate before these Happy Messengers malfunction is called your “Stress Tolerance”.

shutterstock_33614977The only time we build/replenish tissue is when the body is at rest.  When someone is very anxious and not sleeping well, they lose the ability to produce enough B-cells and T-cells for the body’s immune system to function optimally.  We see this phenomenon when someone loses a spouse and in their grief state of not sleeping well, their immune system becomes jeopardized and they get a lot of colds and flus.

The good news is that Massage Therapy utilizes a system of conscientious touch to activate the parasympathetic nervous system or relaxation response.   With the body at rest, our innate healing system can do its job.  B and T-cells increase to reinforce the immune system, and tissues can then repair or build as needed.  In addition, Massage Therapy boosts the release of the “Happy” chemicals Serotonin and Dopamine (by 30 to 40 %) and reduces Cortisol levels (“sad chemicals”) by 30 to 40% making it the quickest way to bring the body to a calmed resting state.  Other body/mind balancing practices include: meditation, yoga, and group talk/support.

Since your level of optimism affects the whole body, below are four strategies anyone can use to improve their emotional health:

1) Live a balanced life. Try not to obsess about the problems at work, school or home that lead to negative feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be happy when you feel stressed, anxious or upset. It’s important to deal with these negative feelings, but try to focus on the positive things in your life too. Let go of things in your life that make you feel stressed and overwhelmed and make more time for things you enjoy.

2) Develop resilience. People with resilience are able to cope with stress in a healthy way. Resilience can be learned and strengthened with different strategies. These include having social support, keeping a positive view of yourself, accepting change and keeping things in perspective.

3) Take care of yourself. To have good emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body by having a regular routine for eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and exercising to relieve pent-up tension. Avoid overeating and don’t abuse drugs or alcohol.

4) Calm your mind and body. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, are useful ways to bring your emotions into balance. Meditation is a form of guided thought. It can take many forms. For example, you may do it by exercising, stretching or breathing deeply.