Mental Health Awareness Week
The Mind-Body Connection
Disconnection from the body is a cultural epidemic and we are taught to control the body by way of the superior mind. I have worked and studied in the world of integrative mental health for over twenty years and have observed this dividing line between science and the metaphysical. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the relationship between mind and the body.
The Mind-Body Debate
During the late 17th century science was separated from religion which cut any mind-body language out of science. The church negotiated with the modern world to look after the soul/mind and science looked after nature leaving a gradual collapse of science and spirituality. At that time the great philosopher Descartes understood things as mechanical machines and that the spirit was not in any sense part of the body and in his famous dualism of nature and mind theory, he argued that there was a total and absolute distinction between mind and body. The main difficulty faced by Descartes’ mind-body dualism (Cartesian theory) is the bringing back together of two orders of being once they were separated. We see this time and time again in the Western world.
Bridging the Gap
This dominant world view of the mind and body being split is coming under increasing pressure with recent developments in neuroscience. In my work with trauma, psychotherapy, research and integrative medicine there is overwhelming evidence that people heal and recover quicker when we use ‘top down’ or mental/cognitive together with a ‘bottom up’ soma/body approaches. In other words we put mind-body self-care as a priority and find a toolbox that works best for the individual. Many western cultures have strong dividing lines between the mental and the physical, traditions that originate in Eastern cultures believe mind and body are much more integrated. We as individuals with free choice can bridge the gap perhaps by considering:
- Hatha Yoga, t’ai chi, Qi gong exercises
- Walking in nature (mindful walking)
- Mindfulness Self-Compassion
- Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) - Palouse Mindfulness offer an 8 week free online course
- Trauma, Tension and release therapy
- EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique/Tapping)
- Reiki Treatments, Massage
- Bach Flower Remedies
- Breath work
Scientists are still figuring out how our mind-body connection produces physical signals that can be transformed into mental feelings. It remains one of the great mysteries of consciousness. This reaffirms that your body is part of your mind in a tangible biological way. For example, the brain frequently predicts threats and it may sometimes guess incorrectly and flood you with the stress hormone cortisol when there is no danger. This false alarm is needless spending of resources that you may need later and therefore irrational. These frequent withdrawals decimate your equilibrium by producing fatigue, insomnia, hyper-arousal and anxiety. What we label as mental illness, may be strict body-budgeting in the short term.
However, if you are stressed over and over again without much opportunity to recover, you could accrue a deficit which amounts to chronic stress. Overtime it may eat away at your brain and cause illness in your body. The human brain doesn’t seem to distinguish between different sources of chronic stress. If we are depleted by circumstances of life – like a physical illness, financial hardship, change, loss, hormone surges, not sleeping or exercising enough the brain becomes vulnerable to stress. When your body budget is continually overloaded, momentary stressors pile up, even the kind we usually bounce back from can quickly bring us down.
Barriers to using Mind-Body Self-care?
“Part of the problem is people fear doing something different, we may feel we have to do things in a particular way and engaging with integrative medicine is a big step to begin with” (Gordon 2016). We may think that the typical western approach to science and our health is all there is, this in fact takes us right back to the 17th century Cartesian theory discussed above. When I work with clients I explain how they will recover quicker by using an integrative approach and I ask them to listen to that small voice inside that says “do you know, I would actually like to try that to see what it’s like”.
So, what are you waiting for, is it time for a new paradigm shift towards integrative medicine being the norm?
Free meditations and mindful walking are available on my website www.gaildonnan.com
Gail Donnan works within the integrative mental health, trauma, psychotherapy and psychology fields. She is the author of The Gateway series of mental health books and founder of the not-for-profit Trauma Centre in North Yorkshire.
Feldman Barrett, L – Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain. Picador 2021
Gordon, J - The Potential of Mind-Body Self Care to Free the World From the Effects of Trauma. Integrative Medicine, Vol. 15 2016
Judith, A – Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self. Potter 2004