Researches and the medical practices have discovered and demonstrated that there are three routes, channels, or systems, by which mental stress is transmitted into the body’s psycho-somatic responses: The autonomic, endocrine, and immune systems.
Scientists are mapping the pathways that link emotion to health. The challenge for the rest of us is to transform the theory into our practice. In other words, our minds can affect and determine to a great deal our body health. This means that our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. On the other hand, our physical activities, such as what we eat, lifestyle and exercises can have impact on mental state.
In the span of a few decades, mind-body medicine has evolved from heresy into something approaching clich (meaning that it has been talked about too much on the media and everybody, more or less knows it). Furthermore in the recent years, the relationship between emotion and health is turning itself to be more interesting and more important, than most of us could have imagined. In the lens of the modern medical science, anxiety, alienation and hopelessness are not just feelings. Neither are love, serenity and optimism. All are physiological states that affect our health just as clearly as obesity or physical fitness. And the brain, as the source of such states, offers a potential gateway to countless other tissues and organs-from the heart and blood vessels to the gut and the immune system.
Nowadays, the respondents embraced practices ranging from deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to meditation, hypnosis and guided imagery. Plenty of people also said that they prayed-perhaps the oldest and most basic form of mind-body medicine.
Modern life is rife with potential stressors, and there is now little question that uncontrolled stress can kill. When a person is confronted by a threat-physical or emotional, real or imagined-the body responds with a rise in blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and breathing rate. We now know that this physiological stress response involves hormones and inflammatory chemicals.
We also now know that chronic stress, though not always fatal, can disrupt the digestive system, worsen symptoms of menopause and interfere with fertility. Experts now believe that 60 to 90 percent of all doctor visits involve stress related complaints.
As the researchers map the health effects of hostility and hopelessness, they are also gaining insights into the mind power to heal. The placebos effect is obtaining more and more support in the academic world; the mounting evidence suggests that any amount of soothing emotional experiences can improve our physical health. At Duke University, researchers have found that religious observance (people with religious belief and practice) is associated with lower rates of illness and hospitalization. Optimistic people have a stronger immune system. The deep sense of calm can be achieved through yoga, prayer or simple deep-breathing exercises-can help counter the effects of chronic stress. It is believed that the body produces more nitric oxide when deeply relaxed, and that this molecule acts as an antidote to cortisol and other potentially toxic stress hormones.
Can we teach ourselves to be healthier? That is the central question of mind-body medicine, and the answer is yes. Stressful life circumstances are sometimes inescapable. Heredity and temperament leave some of us more stress-prone than others. And prayer is clearly no substitute for penicillin or a decent diet. Yet mind-body techniques can improve almost anyone’s quality of life. Meditation may not cure cancer, but by alleviating fear and softening the side effects of treatment, it leaves many patients feeling less victimized.
Stress-related illness often defies conventional remedies, they can be relieved to a reasonable degree by the mind relaxing techniques.