Written by Laurel Sterling, MA, RD, CDN
Laurel is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and certified nutritionist and has worked in the natural products industry since 2000. She has a passion for empowering others through nutritional education.
The children’s Skeleton Dance song goes something like “The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone” and so on. This song is used to teach children how we aren’t separate compartments, and that systems working independently, but that we’re highly interconnected beings.
The Link Between our Mind, Heart, and Body
Our body has the capability to work like a well-oiled machine if everything is working properly, but certain outside factors like stress, anxiety, depression, unhealthy foods, physical pain, and other events, like an accident, can set off a cascade of reactions in the body. Migraines, heart palpitations, and various other physical ailments may result, which demonstrates how what we do, how we think, and how we treat our body affects so many things within us.
Our mind and emotions affect our bodies physically, and physical ailments can also, in turn, affect our emotions. Stress, anxiety, and depression have several emotional, physical, and chemical consequences. Stress can affect things like memory, concentration, sleep, weight, the ability to heal from illnesses, hormonal imbalances, the aging process, and heart rate. During stressful times, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. The hormones adrenaline and cortisol increase, blood pressure rises, and many other systems in the body are affected.
This entire process initiates a pro-inflammatory cascade of events, and inflammation is necessary in the short-term; however, long-lasting inflammation can be very detrimental and contribute to a variety of chronic medical conditions like hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, ulcers, and systemic pain. Stress can prompt unhealthy habits that can lead to a higher risk for heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, obesity, anxiety, depression, and numerous others. Studies also show that grief can increase inflammation and alter the cardiovascular system, and depression is seen to further compound grief-related health conditions.
Stress, depression, grief, illness, and pain make us less likely to want to exercise and make healthy food choices, but exercise has been seen in research to have so many beneficial effects on the body and brain as it increases blood flow, decreases blood pressure, and decreases stressor hormones like cortisol. Typically, during these times individuals head toward “comfort foods,” like caffeine, sugar, fast food, and salty foods; however, ideally, they should choose healthy proteins, fruits, veggies, complex carbohydrates, and beneficial fats. Self-care and quality sleep are important as well.
We are beginning to understand the links more between the mind, heart, and body. Current research is looking deeper into how interrelated our systems are and how much of a role mood and emotions, food, stress, pain, and other factors play on the health of our body.