Written by: Claire Elmes, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
With the summer holidays upon us, I thought it would be good to take a virtual holiday to reflect over the past 18 months and support anyone who has been struggling with stress (I assume most of us have had some stress, right!). It’s no secret that stress can have very real effects on our physical health. When we are under immense stress, we really feel it and embody it. Prolonged experiences of stress – the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure – can affect us physically and mentally in equal measure, even though we tend to conceptualize it more as a purely mental experience. But what if there were steps you could take to better understand, manage and heal the symptoms of stress holistically?
Well, luckily, there is!
Being aware of the relationship between your mind and body doesn’t mean you’ll never experience stress, but that you’ll be in a better position to implement strategies that help you to manage your feelings and take inspired action.
Step One: Understanding the Science of the Mind-Body Connection
Stress occurs when we are faced with a situation that demands more resources from us than we have available – physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially. This often results in us feeling ‘burned out’ or triggered in terms of our mental and emotional health, which both have physical manifestations. Emotional and psychological responses such as anxiety reflect physiological responses such as the production of stress hormones like cortisol.
Feeling anxious, burned out, and depleted are mental and emotional states that often give rise to physical symptoms of ill health – gastrointestinal problems such as IBS, low energy, headaches, rapid heartbeat, aches, pains, and insomnia. Experiences of stress often highlight to us just how powerful the mind-body connection actually is.
Our nervous system ‘fight or flight’ responses are called into action as we prepare to tackle the threat in front of us. In modern society, our fight or flight triggers often look very different from the way they used to as we are no longer faced with the issues that come with surviving in the wild, instead of being activated by uncomfortable or intense situations that highlight our low sense of self-worth, lack of faith in our abilities, lack of positive coping strategies, abusive or unequal relationships, and maladaptive thinking patterns.
Step Two: Nurturing the Mind-Body Connection
We often don’t stop to consider how physical symptoms are actually part of a holistic unit, including our minds, our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and instead treat them as isolated events independent from the rest of our human experience.
The mind-body connection posits the idea that instead, mind, body, and soul are all connected and work in sync with one another. Difficulty in one area – such as workplace anxiety or burnout – can signal difficulties in another – such as insomnia.
Understanding the complex links between our bodies and minds is instrumental for healing the effects of long-term stress, managing stressful situations, and cultivating positive emotional well-being. It can help us to feel more aligned and in tune with our bodies, more empowered in our own recoveries and healing journeys, and better equipped to handle the challenges of life.
Healthy lifestyle changes and efforts to nurture our bodies can be reflected in positive improvements in our mental health. Often, when we’re particularly stressed, depressed, anxious, or low, it can be frustrating to hear the words ‘you should try exercise!’ or ‘do yoga/meditate/eat healthily/go for a walk’ as those things feel trivial in comparison to our overwhelming, all-consuming feelings of fear or anxiety.
However, taking action such as improving your diet to include more nutritious food, moving your body more and getting fresh air, relaxing your muscles by having a bath or shower, practicing deep breathing, meditating, and performing visualization exercises can all have potent positive effects on your mental health and improve your mind-body connection.
In addition, talking about your problems with somebody, whether it’s a friend, family member, or a therapist, and working on the re-framing negative, debilitating thoughts to more empowering ones can translate to your body experiencing less tension and more equilibrium.
Step Three: Identifying Mind-Body Synchronicities
When you are aware of the mind-body connection and are actively taking steps to nurture it, it becomes easier to identify what physical symptoms are manifestations of emotional/psychological ones. When you feel your mental health improving and stress lessening its grip, you may notice that the physical sensations you experienced daily have also diminished.
As some physical symptoms have their root in mind, this means that if we are able to alter our thoughts or way of relating to a particular situation, we impact our entire being in a more positive way. One of my favorite phrases is ‘where focus goes, energy flows’, which means that the more we focus on the negative elements, the more negative we feel and the more negative things become for us. The good news is if we reverse what we focus on and focus instead on the positive elements (I know this one is much harder right now!) - guess what happens! Positive shifts then start to occur in our behavior and our mindset.
We are all immersed in a complicated cycle whereby our internal and external representations of the world are impacting us. This explains why everyone has different ‘realities.’ You know, when lots of people see the same thing, but all have a different opinion of it! When we experience a stressful event, our brain filters based on thoughts, beliefs, memories, decisions, and values (all personal to us) and deletes, distorts and generalizes the information into our internal representation. This, in turn, creates our feelings and behavior, such as anxiety, depression, and the many symptoms we experience, which impact our decisions and choices.
Having the space to work through our negative or disempowering thoughts and internal representations can help us to feel better physically and mentally. When we spend so much of our lives at work, it’s crucial that we have systems in place there to help us manage and cultivate a more positive mindset.
Claire Elmes, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Claire Elmes is the founder of Inspire You and is passionate about work-life balance. Having experienced burnout, Claire is dedicated to empowering people to work through stress and anxiety, traumatic life events, shift mindset, regulate emotions, gain clarity, and develop a stable routine. Through coaching and therapeutic techniques, Claire helps people tap into their potential and transform their lives for the better. Since Covid 19, Claire has recognized many companies are changing how they work and is supporting them to develop innovative well-being strategies to prevent staff burnout and help teams thrive, not survive. Claire provides companies with regular well-being support on a wide variety of topics such as: "How to avoid burnout", "How to make time in your week for what matters", "How to stop overthinking", "How to improve sleep", " How to manage imposter syndrome," "How to be the best version of you", to name just a few. Claire's mission is to empower the emotional well-being of staff and bring the fun back into work life.