NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

August 23, 2013

Warming to mindbody research

Health and Well-Being
Dr. Jim Manganiello

---- — More than 25 years ago, leading science researchers likened research about mindbody to the research that proved that the sun was the center of our solar system, not Earth.

It took many years for people to adjust their thinking and world view following what Copernicus discovered about the heavens. It was sometime before the information became widely known. And when it did, many individuals found that this “new understanding” upset the status quo in ways that were unsettling to commonly accepted views about reality. A number of courageous scientists were even imprisoned as blasphemers and liars for daring to challenge the long-held belief that Earth was the center of the solar system.

Today, knowledge about the nature of mindbody functioning is in a similar situation. Most people know little, if anything, about the new knowledge. Change takes place slowly. Consider that most medical schools still teach “body only” ideas about health and well-being. Yet, mindbody science research presents exciting challenges to the long-held, wrongheaded views about health and illness, research that has profound implications for all of us.

A mechanistic view of reality still dominates views about health and healing. The body is seen as a machine with many separate parts and separate functions. And the mind is ignored as an important factor in influencing health and illness. The mind is too often mistakenly seen as a byproduct of brain. In some circles, the influence of the mind is ridiculed, such as in the notion that stress-related illness “is all in your mind, so don’t worry about it.” The fact is that stress-driven illness involves very real physical problems resulting from the influence of the mind on the body.

The tendency to overestimate the importance of the body and to disregard the mind, while ignoring the mind and body’s interdependence, is deeply embedded in our culture. We are not accustomed to thinking in mindbody ways. And, as is usually the case, what we have already learned often gets in the way of our being able to see new things.

Discoveries in neuroimmunology, neuroendocrinology, cerebral function and cellular physiology show that the mind and body cannot be separated. They are an interdependent unit. What goes on in your mind affects your body, and what’s going on in your body affects your mind. Your mind plays a critical role in what happens in your body. Your feelings, thoughts, desires and intentions influence the cells in your body. There is no body that is independent from the mind.

Research has identified the “pathways” by which physiological or biochemical change takes place in our body. It results from our body’s processing our attitudes, thoughts, feelings, intentions and desires. Our psychology, what we think and feel, and our body, our immune system, endocrine system and autonomic nervous system, are all interdependent. They interact in ways that determine whether or not we become ill and, if we do, whether we recover.

So far-reaching is current mindbody research that we are now verifying a connection between our minds and our genes. The mind not only moves our blood pressure and heart rate, it also influences the molecules created in the cells of our body. For example, under severe psychological stress, a system in our brain converts our thoughts and feelings into neurohormonal “messenger molecules” in the body.

These messenger molecules can stimulate the production of steroid hormones that then impact our cells in ways that trigger genetic response, responses that have far-reaching impact on our health and well-being.

How can you use mindbody knowledge to safeguard your health and well-being?

The most important thing you can do is learn how to reduce your stress hormone levels and to flush stress hormones out of your blood and tissues. If you are swimming in a river of stress hormones, then you’re vulnerable to a vicious cycle whereby your stressed mind release more stress hormones, which then trigger more stressful thoughts and feelings, which triggers release of more stress hormones and so on and on and on.

This vicious cycle is the real culprit behind what I call today’s “miseries”: stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia, among others. As well as “equipment breakdowns” such as heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

If you carry burdens from the past, know they can trigger chronic patterns of stressful thinking and feeling; find a way to unburden yourself. Remember the past is not behind you, it’s in you. It’s bad enough if our past wounded us, but we should not let it wound our future, as well.

If your work and/or your relationship is troubling you, find out why and develop a well-thought-out plan for change. Just living with it can be a surefire recipe for significant mindbody problems. Regular exercise is a good way to lower your stress hormone levels, as well.

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Dr. Jim Manganiello is a clinical psychologist and diplomate-level medical psychotherapist based in Groveland and West Boxford. He is also an author and teacher focusing on stress, personal growth, meditation and “inner fitness.” His book “Unshakable Certainty” is available on Amazon. Email him at drmanganiello@comcast.net or visit www.drjimmanganiello.com.