The Science of Self Care
Hippocrates was onto something. The ancient Greek physician firmly believed in the health connection between the mind and body, and therefore used a holistic approach in treating his patients.¹ While holistic medicine continued for centuries in many cultures, it’s just now catching on in Western medical practice.²⁻³ Emerging research shows that the new MVP in this game between our mental and physical health is (drum roll please)…our gut. This could have major implications for how we think about mental health treatment approaches.
In this four-part blog series, we will explore:
- The mind-body health connection,
- How our gut acts as a “second brain” and what that means for our health,
- The role of nutrition in gut health and mental health, and
- Lifestyle tips that promote the gut-brain connection and make us feel better
Part I – Mind and Body: A Balancing Act for Wellbeing
Traditionally, mental and physical health have been treated as independent fields of practice in Western medicine. If we felt physical pain, we saw a doctor. If we felt emotional pain, we saw a
therapist. The mind and body were separate entities.⁴⁻⁵ However, recent evidence-based medicine has literally transformed mind and body health approaches from philosophical thought to scientific reality.
What We Know: The Effects of Mental Health on Physical Health
Many of us have likely experienced physical symptoms that stem from how we feel mentally. We don’t always connect these physical signs to emotional triggers, but more often than not, there is a connection at play between mind and body.
- Acute Stress – when a lion chases you or you’re facing a big presentation. When we encounter immediate stress, our flight or fight system kicks in. Adrenaline and cortisol are released and our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, our muscles tense up, and our skin turns pale. These are all healthy and evolutionary defense mechanisms to help us survive.
- Chronic Stress – when you have prolonged feelings of anxiety, worry or pressure. When we remained stressed, our body’s flight or fight system gets overwhelmed. This takes a toll on our mental and physical health. People who live with chronic stress often experience increased incidence of depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammation, and infections.⁶⁻⁸
- Depression – when you feel down, sad, or detached for longer than usual without a clear reason. When we feel depressed, we are prone to having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, losing or gaining an appetite, feeling lethargic, and having aches and pain.⁹⁻¹¹ These symptoms often lead to physical illness and chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease.¹²⁻¹⁴
What We’re Learning: The Effects of Physical Health on Mental Health
We know that dealing with stress and depression can take a toll on our bodies, but what research is showing is that our physical health may affect how we feel mentally too; specifically,
- Acute Inflammation – when you burn your tongue on hot pizza. Acute inflammation is a healthy immune response that happens when our bodies try to protect us from damage. We often
experience this natural response as pain, redness, and swelling. Without inflammation, small injuries could lead to major infections.¹⁵
- Chronic Inflammation – when your body feels like it’s always responding to hot pizza burns. Similar to chronic stress, chronic inflammation has been associated with disease, autoimmune conditions, and cancer.¹⁶⁻¹⁷ It can occur as a result of family history, poor diets, and poor gut health.¹⁸⁻²⁰ Surprisingly (importantly), chronic inflammation is also correlated with mood disorders and anxiety.²¹⁻²⁴
So, why is this important?
This mind-body connection is important because treating our physical health might be simpler and more effective than treating mental health alone. Nearly one in every five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness, so this topic has major public health implications.²⁵
When it comes down to it, ketamine therapy is just one way Actify Neurotherapies has stayed at the frontline of innovation when it comes to behavioral health care. We care about our community’s experiences with wellness, so please do share your thoughts on the connection between mind and body in the comments below. If you have a question about how this post pertains to your wellbeing, send an email to ShareWithActify@actifyneuro.com.
Coming up next:
In Part II, we discuss how the gut health influences much more than just digestion. To keep up with this blog series, subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address in the field at the top right of this page.
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Megan S. Maisano, MS
Megan is health writer and Army veteran who specializes in nutrition communications and has a background in psychology. Her academic, professional, and personal experiences have convinced her that wellbeing doesn’t simply come from food, fitness, or mental health, but a peaceful balance between the three.
(MS, Nutrition Communications Tufts University, BS, Psychology United States Military Academy)