Some days, between stressful thoughts and tense, clenched hands, I can barely think for the anxiety pulsing through my being. It’s harder for me to breathe, I’m more irritable and prone to yelling, and my thoughts run tirelessly around and around a giant track of tasks. Often, I’ll find myself staring at a list of to-do’s and realize that I’ve crossed out and re-written the same item several times, just to feel productive amidst the stress.
So when I read about “mind-body therapies” and their popularity over the last several years, I immediately knew it was a trend to keep my eyes on. Most of the articles I’d previously read (e.g. Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief) were useful for contrasting the bad concept of stress with the good concept of relaxation, as well as providing stress-relief methods such as: breathing meditations, progressive muscle relaxation, visualizations meditations, yoga, and tai chi. The problem with these simplistic articles was that they did not explain to me the root cause of the problem; why, when my hands clench up, do I start having stressful thoughts, and vice-versa?
As should be obvious to all of us, our minds and our bodies are integrally linked. We can’t solve a problem in one without addressing issues with the other. An article by Jeffrey A Dusek and Herbert Benson (“Mind-Body Medicine“) gets at the underlying physiological and molecular responses that we experience during times of stress. First, the Stress Response (SR) consists of “an involuntary set of physiological alterations that include increases in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, and metabolic shifts that liberate energy” (Dusek & Benson, 2009). In contrast, the Relaxation Response (RR) is “associated with decreases in oxygen consumption, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, along with an increased sense of well-being” (Dusek & Benson, 2009). Hormones and biochemicals such as nitric oxide may also play a role in this process (Dusek & Benson, 2009).
It is important consider that the mind does not simply refer to your brain, but to the whole host of mental states that you experience daily – including thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and images (“Mind-Body Therapies“). We can also react to situations with emotions that we do not consciously know we’re experiencing (“Mind-Body Therapies“). Hence the value of mindfulness exercises and their ability to fight the above listed physiological, hormonal, and molecular responses to stress. Emotional and spiritual perspectives of the individual suffering from stress are also important considerations, though these factors were typically downplayed in early Western mindfulness practices (“Mind-Body Therapies“).
Mind-body connections are likely to be unique between and amongst all people; however, the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) provides a starting list for those interested in mind-body therapies or practices:
- Patient support groups
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Creative arts therapies (art, music, or dance)
- Tai chi
- Guided imagery