Mind-Body Connection: Uniting Emotional and Physical Health

Explore the link between emotional health and physical symptoms, and learn strategies for holistic wellness and Mind-Body health.
Abi Bradley
May 16, 2024
Mind-Body Connection: Uniting Emotional and Physical Health

Ever gotten a headache because of stress?

Ever start to shake when feeling nervous?

Or maybe you get hot when you’re mad?

Despite all these signs that the personal side of our minds (i.e. our thoughts, feelings, emotions) control a lot of our physical presence in the world, we’ve grown up seeing the two as very much separate. Over and over again we separate the personal from the physical. One of the reasons for this is because of language and the need for specific labels for things.

We’re taught the different body systems like the nervous system, immune system, cardiovascular system, hormonal apparatus, digestive system, etc. But language falls short of the ability to accurately describe what the body actually is. What we actually are. This inability causes a separation of parts, but reality knows no separation. All these systems communicate with their own language — chemical signals. Our emotions, our feelings, our thoughts are not an exception to this. They communicate with the body in the same way that our digestive system does and when they are left unmanaged, unsupported, unprocessed, they can wreak havoc on those same systems.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand the physical things that we can do to improve our health. We know that exercise, eating well, drinking x amount of water, getting enough sleep is all good for our health. Now, because all of these things are good for our bodies they are also good for our minds too. But there’s an opposite side of this coin we often ignore because it’s not as tangible and it’s a lot more uncomfortable — it’s the processing and expressing of emotions and boundary setting. Over and over and over again, we chose to suppress emotions rather than work through them and (even scarier) expressing them.

The Hidden Costs of Holding Back

Compulsive self-disregard and emotional repression are never deliberate or conscious—nobody can be faulted for them. We live in a world where we don’t want to be a burden, cause a problem, or appear “weak.” Not expressing our emotions is a coping mechanism often developed in early childhood, and I could spend the rest of the day talking about early childhood experiences but that’s a topic for another day.  So I’ll say it again, nobody can be faulted for repressing their emotions.

But when we are constantly repressing our emotions, they don’t just go away (sorry Charlie) they are left to communicate with our nervous system/immune system/hormonal apparatus/intestines/heart/etc. This compounding stress either results in an emotional eruption or physical manifestation. I mean, look at Queen Elsa. She was raised to conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know. But eventually her body said no, her powers erupted, and she was able to heal and the rest was history.

Now because we don’t live in a Disney fairytale, our body saying no to continued emotional suppression and increased stress within our bodies looks very different than uncontrolled freezer burn. For us, our body saying no can manifest as something more mental (such as emotional break down, angry outburst, a mental health crisis), or something more physical (such as a chronic illness or disease). For example, a longitudinal study found that women diagnosed with severe PTSD had double the amount of risk of developing ovarian cancer. Now this isn’t meant to scare you, but allow it to be a call to action because this is just one of many studies showing the direct correlation our minds have to our bodies and health.

When it comes to these physical manifestations, that’s where we struggle to tie it back to our emotional wellbeing. Our first thought isn’t “oh my mind/body must be at a disconnect because I keep ignoring how I’m feeling.” We continue to treat symptoms by focusing on physical causation, ignoring the part our mind/emotions/feelings have in all of this, and think we can find sustainable healing. The origins of the word heal are wholeness, or to become whole. Our bodies are nothing without our minds, and our minds are nothing without our bodies. They are one in the same and when each system within ourselves is nourished and supported, that’s when we feel most whole.

Embrace the Connection

As you continue to do things to improve your physical health and wellbeing, I encourage you to take a pause and begin to evaluate where emotional processing and expression can fit into your wellness routine and what that may look like for you. I say it all the time, but we aren’t meant to do any of this alone so if you are struggling with where to start or feeling stuck, please reach out. You, your health and your wellbeing are worth it.

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