Mind-Body Connection

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Darkest Days” by Fake Names

Mind-Body Connection

UNDERSTANDING MIND-BODY CONNECTION: Therapy is fantastic for helping you understand yourself and life coaching helps you achieve your goals, but if you’re on a path of personal growth it’s important to view your mental, emotional, and physical wellness holistically. For example, have you ever considered how your thoughts, feelings, and emotions affect your body? Conversely, have you ever observed how your physical health can sometimes impact how you're feeling, or even the way you think? 

Most people are under the impression that physical and mental well-being are separate things to handle. However, your body and mind are interconnected like cogs in a well-oiled machine — they inform and influence each other. When we’re feeling anxious, our breathing and heart rate speeds up, and our muscles get tense. On the other hand, when we're down with a cold, we tend to feel hopeless, helpless, and pessimistic. These effects show a mind-body connection.

In this episode, we'll define the mind-body connection, how it works, and why it's important. By understanding the mind-body connection, you can make remarkable changes to increase your overall wellness. 

If you want to know how to take control of your life and sustain a sound mind and body, then tune in to this episode! 

In This Mind-Body Connection Podcast Episode, You Will… 

  • Understand the mind-body connection and its importance.
  • Find out why what you eat affects your mental well-being.
  • Discover how your thoughts and emotions can affect your physical health.
  • Uncover what happens to your body when you’re thinking negative thoughts.
  • Identify how stress affects your mental and emotional health.
  • Learn things you can do to bounce back when you are feeling low and stressed out.
  • Find out actionable ways to achieve physical and mental wellness.
  • Figure out when you can help yourself feel better through changing your diet or behaviors, or whether cognitive-behavioral therapy or coaching can help.

Thanks for tuning in today. I hope that this episode helps you get clarity and understanding around the way that your mind, emotions, and body all interconnect, and how to use this self-awareness to help yourself stay well and balanced.

Mind-Body Connection

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Mind-Body Connection: Show Notes & Episode Highlights

What Is the Mind-Body Connection?

How do your mind, body, and mood affect each other? 

As we expand our understanding of the human mind, we start to realize how much our emotions and feelings affect our bodies and vice-versa. 

An example of the mind-body connection is that as we approach the winter months, many people experience winter blues. As our bodies react to the cold and lack of sunlight, we may feel exceedingly melancholy. We're also less likely to exercise and get much-needed vitamin D, which in turn, can contribute to how we feel.

You have more control over what you think and feel emotionally and physically than you think. When you figure out how the mind-body connection works, you can expect remarkable results that will surprise you in many ways. 

The Mind-Body Problem 

While mental-oriented strategies you get from therapy are helpful, they do not always translate to dramatic changes

I learned this lesson about ten years ago when I had a client who was dealing with anxiety. We had been working together to address this problem and had tried different methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, mindfulness skills training, and self-care activities. However, nothing seemed to work until he went camping.

He felt less stressed and more organized. He was also able to practice mindfulness — he even went so far as to assume that he was cured. After a while, he went back to feeling bad. 

It was then that he shared how he goes through a six-pack of Diet Coke a day. And so, I thought about having a little experiment. He swapped out Diet Coke for something decaf and not artificially sweetened. The week after the experiment, he came back feeling better. 

Mind-Body Wellness

There is a physical component to our experiences. It’s easy to spend a lot of time, energy, and money trying to resolve what we think are mental health issues through talk therapy. However, my experience taught me that the way people think and feel have multifaceted causes. Unless we address the underlying issues in a person’s lifestyle that may be contributing to not feeling well mentally and emotionally, therapy may not be effective.

At present, I ask questions about the physical stuff that we can experiment on, especially when working with a new client who has mood symptoms. These changes have the possibility of creating a dramatic impact on their mood.

Conversely, a person's very real physical symptoms can sometimes be due to the following: 

  • What the person is feeling emotionally
  • What they are thinking
  • What they have previously experienced

Unless these people do deep work in therapy to think differently, manage their emotions, or resolve their historical trauma, the physical symptoms may not disappear.

Improving Mind-Body Wellness

The solution to making ourselves feel better can, therefore, be different than what we think it is. 

Whenever you are feeling low, tired, or stressed out, try out these simple tips in my shortlist: 

  • Consider having a physical check-up 
  • Assess your vitamin levels
  • Take care of your gut health
  • Stay hydrated

These tips can help you feel better — research shows that what you put into your body can boost your mood. For example, depressed mice had their intestinal flora altered. Just this simple change in their gut health made these mice happier!

Body Health and Mind

Note that if you are dealing with physical symptoms, it’s best to consult your doctor. However, if these symptoms come with anxiety, depression, and other related chronic illnesses, you may also consider talking to your therapist.

Now, you may go to your therapist because you think you have ADHD or depression. These conditions are real and valid. However, what you experience may sometimes point to other factors. For example, the medication in an asthma inhaler can create ADHD-like symptoms. Meanwhile, when you feel sick or are injured, your body’s natural response is to keep you in the house. You’ll feel tired, hopeless, and helpless. Are you starting to see the ties to your mind-body connection?

How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health

Evolutionary adaptation has taught our bodies to be aware of threats around us. When we feel anxious, our bodies interpret this to mean that a threat is approaching. However, the older, emotional part of our brains cannot differentiate between real and perceived danger. So, when we feel anxious, our bodies let out a stress response. 

Furthermore, an interesting study shows that the bodies of people who worry more and experience more stress heal less quickly than those who don't. People who have traumatic childhood experiences also have several long-term health conditions. Our experiences, thoughts, and feelings do indeed change how the systems in our bodies work.

Healthy Mind and Body 

Over the years, I have discovered there are three things that have a huge impact on someone mentally and physically. These are: 

For me, sleep plays the biggest role in this equation. When you lack sleep, you go through physiological changes in your body that increase depressive and anxious thoughts.

Another thing you must consider is exercise. People usually work out to feel healthy, but some do it to change the way they look. I think we must veer away from this kind of thinking — love our body, regardless of its shape.

Another problem is that some people cut back on working out because they are too tired or busy. However, getting into 20 or 30 minutes of brisk physical activity a day can have significant beneficial effects. You’ll be more relaxed, have more energy, and improve the kind of thoughts you are having.  

Lastly, as much as sleep and moving your body are important, what you eat and drink are also big factors in your overall health. You can consult your doctor to see whether you are getting good nutrition, drinking enough water, and taking the proper medicine to help aid in your mind-body connection. 

Sound Mind in a Sound Body

Do not underestimate the power of the mind in changing the way you feel. The way we think creates our emotional reaction to everything. Nothing means anything until you decide what it means. And when you have control over how you're going to interpret whatever is happening in your life, you automatically have enormous control over the way you feel. 

Figuring out what’s in your mind is easier said than done. I suggest you try cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive-behavioral coaching

Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows you to understand: 

  • How am I thinking? 
  • What are my core beliefs? 
  • What am I telling myself?
  • How do I intentionally shift that to feel better? 

Meanwhile, cognitive-behavioral coaching is best for people who don’t have any mental health diagnosis and just want to improve their mind-body connection. This is not focused on symptom reduction but on helping you figure out the different elements that influence what you are thinking and how you are feeling. It allows you to assess: 

  • How you are thinking and feeling,
  • How your mood state impacts your thoughts, 
  • What happens to your physical process when you’re thinking and feeling.

Resources

  • Subscribe to our website and other platforms to get updates on our latest episodes.
  • Check out the Love Your Body podcast episode with Stephanie Oliver.

Enjoy the Podcast?

Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about the mind-body connection? How do you think these insights can help you take care of your physical and mental health better? Tell us by commenting on this episode. Subscribe to us now to discover more episodes on living a life full of love, happiness and success.

[Intro music: Darkest Days by Fake Names]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: We are heading into the winter season, which can be a really hard time of year for a lot of people, particularly when it comes to the way you feel physically and emotionally. 

I know that you're listening to this podcast because you care about love, happiness, and success, right? If your goal is to feel happy, healthy, energized, to have good relationships, and feel generally content with your life, we need to talk about something very important and that is your mind-body connection. 

I know that that term has gotten kind of a bad rap over the years as being in the realm of questionable holistic healer people, no opinions there, but it is also very, very true that there is an undeniable relationship between the way you think and your physical wellness and the way you feel emotionally. That all impacts the way you behave. And they also all impact each other. 

The way you think impacts the way you behave. The way you behave impacts the way you think and feel. There's this very real interplay that is not understood well by many people, and then to make things even more exciting, there is a very real relationship between your physical health and what's going on inside your body and the way that you feel day-to-day in terms of your mood. Likewise, the way that you feel emotionally can have very, very real physical impacts on the way your body functions, so there is a lot here to talk about. 

Today, we are talking about mind-body connection and more importantly, how you can use the understanding that hopefully, you achieve through this podcast today to create actual, substantial, positive changes in the way you feel and as well as your physical wellness. We have much to discuss on today's episode, and I'm so glad you're here to join me. 

If this is your first time listening to the show, welcome. I am Lisa Marie Bobby, I'm the founder and Clinical Director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. My background, I'm a licensed psychologist, I'm also a licensed marriage and family therapist and I am a board-certified life coach, and I draw from all of those different realms to bring you hopefully helpful information every single week to support your quest for love, happiness, and success, and this show is all about you. 

If you have questions or topics that you would like to hear more about, don't ever hesitate to get in touch with me: hello@growingself.com. You can track me down on Instagram: @drlisamariebobby or heck, you can even call us on the phone. We do that too so growingself.com if you ever want to get in touch. Hey, special thanks also to my regular listeners. I was on iTunes the other day and I noticed that there were a lot of really nice new comments about the show, so thank you so much for leaving those and for reviewing the show not just to make me feel good, although I like that too. When you rate and review the show, it helps other people find this information more easily. You are supporting other people in their journey of love, happiness, and success, so thank you for reviewing it and for sharing these episodes to people in your life who could benefit from the same information that you receive so thank you. 

What Is the Mind-Body Connection?

Okay, so let's dive into our topic today: the mind-body connection, why this is so fundamentally important, and how you can change the way this whole thing works. You have so much control over the way that you think and the way you feel emotionally and physically that you might not realize. When you can figure out some of these mechanics almost, it's a bunch of gear cogs working together, it can really create remarkable results but in surprising ways, surprising ways that you might not expect. 

Again, it's essential that we're talking about this now. I'm recording this podcast as we are lighting into October, and this time of year, seasonal affective disorder is a very real thing for people in the northern hemisphere especially. I think there are a number of different reasons for this but not the least of which is that our physical body changes when it's cold. We might not go out to exercise the same way, we might not get enough sunlight which can impact your vitamin D levels. This can have a surprisingly profound impact on not just your emotional state, but the way that you think. I really wanted to give you some ideas and actionable resources to kind of arm you going into this so that you can feel good all winter long. 

The Mind-Body Connection Problem

I also wanted to share that the information that you might hear on this podcast today could be a little bit different than that which you may hear other therapists or people in my industry talk about. I have to tell you, I came about this understanding kind of the hard way, the humbling way, after more than a few years of practice.

I'll tell you what happened that helped me truly grasp the power of the mind-body connection and create a very just clear example of how, as a therapist, I had really been seeking to help people through the ways that I knew how so therapy and talking about things and then just had some experiences with clients that were like, “Oh, I really need to be paying more attention to these other aspects of life that are so dramatically important.” 

I think in my own career, there's been this, looking back, this progressive evolution in the way that I seek to help people. When I first went into practice, I was very excited about psychodynamic stuff and experiential techniques. I had clients in my office, screaming at therapy pillows in the chair and crying cathartically, which was all great. We had a fantastic time there, magical moments in the therapy room, but I realized that while sometimes that led to change with clients, it really didn't always. It was interesting and they're like, “Wow, I never realized that my father's criticism was so impactful.” They'd walk out but come back next week and things had not really substantially changed for them. 

I found myself going back to the drawing board, and being like, “Okay, so the things that I was taught in counseling school aren't always translating into actionable results for my clients and what can I do differently?” Over the years kind of evolved into more of a cognitive-behavioral lens, which has a ton of evidence-based really solid research to support its efficacy. But even then, I think that's really what kind of led me in the direction of coaching, is how do we move away from talking about this stuff to actually doing it and helping people move forward? That has been my kind of just progression and my own way of thinking about how to be helpful to people throughout the years. 

Something really important changed for me, this is probably 10 years ago. I had been working with a client, who I'm sure would not mind me telling you the story. He's fantastic. We were together for quite a while because he came in, and he had pretty serious anxiety. All the symptoms: very irritable, snapping at people, being kind of reactive in relationships, having a really hard time sleeping, would stay up half the night worrying about stuff, really worried about work, in particular, a lot of future thinking, a lot of what-ifs, a lot of catastrophic thoughts: “If I do this, then this terrible thing will happen.” 

Really, it was very rea,l and he felt very stressed out a lot, that cognitively super problem-focused. His relationship was suffering because of it. We worked for a long time on this, reviewing family history stuff or doing a lot of cognitive therapy techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, which again, have been shown by research to work beautifully. Mindfulness skills training, looking at helpful thoughts versus unhelpful thoughts, shifting into a growth mindset, some strategies to help unhook his mind from problem-focused thinking, ways to sort of self-soothe, self-care activities

We did all of it, and it helped a little bit, right? But not dramatically, and I was thinking, “Okay, well, maybe this is just an organically based mental health thing.” I'm not sure if he was on medication or not. I would need to look at my notes but thinking like, “Wow, this is very entrenched.” Anyway, we're seeing each other week to week and then one week, he came bounding back into my office and he was so excited. Actually, I hadn't seen him for a week. He had gone on a camping trip. I think it had been two weeks and he came bouncing back into the office and he was like, “Lisa, I feel so good. Everything is so good.” 

He was telling me, he's like, “You know, I had the best time on this camping trip. I slept through the night, I found myself just being able to kind of relax and hang out with my wife and have a nice time and nothing felt like it was that big of a deal. I really unplugged from work, and I climbed a mountain. It was so great.” He was just so happy. It had been a couple of days since he's been back and he's like, “Ever since I got back, at work even, I'm able to kind of keep myself organized and not overthink and I'm feeling less stressed out and I'm not feeling grumpy and angry at everybody.” He's like, “I am cured.” 

We were both excited and high-fived each other, all of these things that we had been working on just fell into place. He was like, “It's so much easier now. I can do those things that you've been teaching me how to do, like shift into better, more helpful thoughts and not catastrophize and remind myself, my mindfulness skills, and all these things.” It was so good so anyway, we were both so happy and it was like, “Success!” Then, he left the office and came back, and I think it was a week or two later and I was fully prepared, to be like, “Maybe we're done. It worked, great. The answer is all these skills and maybe taking camping trips more often, right?” 

Because my goal is never to keep people in therapy their whole lives. We are here for a reason, we're here to help you solve a problem and then go be happy. So when I saw him again, I thought it might be the last time or he would cut back substantially. He came in and he was like, “Oh, I feel so bad.” He was telling me about what a jerk his boss was being and all this stuff that he was all stressed out about and he was angry and couldn't stop thinking about this and had been up for three nights in a row. It was just like he had fallen right back into it. It was such a dramatic change. 

I was like, “Okay, wait a second. What in the heck happened?” Because it wasn't just work, right? Also, we can't stay camping forever so it's like, “What is happening?” Instead of just kind of doing the same old thing, I was like, “This is so dramatic. There is something else here, and let's just investigate this.” We spent pretty much the entire session talking about: “Okay, what was different when you went camping and immediately after coming back?” We ran through all of it. He had been getting more exercise on his trip, certainly, and had been with friends and unplugged from work, all these are good things, but he gets exercise anyway. 

This is a person who exercised, he had an active social life so it wasn't that different. He had taken vacations before and did not experience this kind of benefit over the course of our work. He'd actually taken a couple of vacations, and he and his wife had gone to a resort and a tropical paradise kind of deal so we're like, “What is going on?” Anyway, so to cut to the point, one of the things that were actually a little bit different is the Diet Coke situation. I was like, “I'm sorry, the what?” He shared a detail about his life that I had not known before because it never occurred to me to ask, it never occurred for him to tell me. 

He's like, “Yeah, usually, I drink a lot of Diet Coke. I will easily go through a six-pack a day. I have them at work while I'm working. I have one with dinner but, obviously, on a backpacking camping trip, I am not going to trundle a case of diet coke with me into the woods.” He was like, “Do you think that could have something to do with the anxiety thing?” And I was like, “I don't know. Let's find out.” 

Actually, I did share that I'm such a nerd. I was a biology major in college, and at one point, I had actually written a whole paper on the impact of aspartame, which is a sweetener that's used in Diet Coke and other drinks, or at least it was. I don't know if it's still around anymore, but it has pronounced stimulating effects on people's nervous systems that look similar to caffeine, actually. Aspartame, for some people, not all people, people have different kinds of just reactions to different chemicals and additives based on their own body chemistry. I have a sensitivity to aspartame, and also a related food additive, MSG, which isn't a lot of things, but if I have too much of it, I'll get a headache, honestly and it'll actually impact my sleeping. That's why I was interested in writing a paper on it in college. 

Anyway, when he told me this, I was like, “Very interesting. Let's have an experiment.” The experiment was no Diet Coke. It's very stimulating between the aspartame and also the caffeine and caffeinated beverages. He was like, “Well, that's easy enough.” He swapped that out for something decaf and not artificially sweetened. Wouldn't you know it, he came back into my office the next week, and he was like, “We figured it out.” That whole experience was really incredibly interesting to me but also very humbling because here I was, and I can't beat myself up too much about this because we only know what we know at the time, but we had been working on anxiety together in therapy for quite a while. 

He was coming in every week, I was taking his money to help him figure this out and was really working very hard to teach him all these cognitive-behavioral strategies that I thought should work. But there was a physical component to his experience that was really creating a lot of these anxious thoughts, anxious feelings, anxiety physical symptoms that were consistent with anxiety: sleeplessness, racing heart, breathlessness, all the things. Until we removed that physically-based variable, he wasn't going to feel better no matter what we did in therapy. 

Mind-Body Wellness

I wanted to share that story with you to illustrate the point and the importance of really understanding the mind-body connection in a different way. Because it is very easy to spend a lot of time and energy and money trying to resolve what we think are mental health issues, completely overlooking all of these physical components of our lives that can have a huge impact on the way we think and feel. Until we address the physical components, all the therapy in the world isn't going to change it that much. That is a hard fact for card-carrying therapists like me to acknowledge. Again, it's humbling, but it's also so true. Since this client, I have seen that be true time and time again. 

Now, when I am working with a new client particularly, a new client who has any kind of mood symptoms, I start with the physical stuff and ask a lot of questions to see if there are any easy stuff we can experiment with. It might have dramatic impacts on the way they're feeling and that don't involve coming into therapy with me for six months every week because that would be fantastic. Not that I'm not super interesting and fun to talk to, just kidding, but really, we're here for a reason. 

That has been an important lesson, and what has also been an equally important and humbling lesson are people that I have worked with over the years who have very, very real chronic health conditions that are not in their heads. They are very real, they are actual physical symptoms that do require treatment. When we unpack this, the reason why they are having those physical symptoms is often, at least in part, due to the way they are thinking and the way they are feeling emotionally and also because of things that they have experienced in their lives like historical trauma. It comes out in the body in very interesting ways years later. 

They have been working with all these medical professionals to resolve all these physical symptoms that again, are real. They are not making them up. They are real things that are happening and yet, it's only when they do this deeper work in therapy to figure out some of their internal processes, and learn how to think differently, learn how to manage their emotions in a different way or process their trauma, these physical symptoms will melt away. Again, sometimes, in very dramatic ways. 

Being able to understand this interplay, I think, is incredibly important for everyone to understand because sometimes, the most direct route for helping ourselves feel better, both emotionally or physically, can be really different than what we think is the answer. Like my client: “I have anxiety; therefore, I should go to therapy.” Makes perfect sense, when the answer was actually something completely different. Here are some of the highlights that I'm going to share with you, things that I have learned over the years. 

Improving Mind-Body Connection Wellness

I just made a little, shortlist for you, especially heading into the winter, things that I would like for you to be thinking about and experimenting with, if you notice that you are starting to feel low, or tired, or stressed out, or even a little bit more anxious. Or even if you have been feeling that way even before winter happened, Lord knows there are all kinds of things for all of us to be stressed out and low about these days in the world. If you were my client coming in being like, “Lisa, I don't feel good,” I would be wanting to know a few things. 

First of all, and this is a real easy one, when was the last time you just had a physical, just a basic physical and your doctor does a blood panel and also maybe even does an assessment of your vitamin levels? We know that being low in certain vitamins and nutrients like iron, if you are low in iron or anemic, you will feel depressed. You will be exhausted and foggy and like, “Ugh, I can't.” Wouldn't it be simple to take an iron supplement or eat more spinach and feel 10x better without coming in talking to a therapist for six months? Sometimes, these things are just super easy. Iron is one of them, vitamin D is one of them. 

As I was mentioning at the top of this episode, particularly if you are like me, I sit in an office all day, basically like a little mushroom festering in my dark office. I need to be sure that I take a vitamin D supplement and make it a point to: “Yes, I wear sunscreen, but also get outside.” Your body creates vitamin D, it synthesizes vitamin D through your skin, so when you get sunlight, a substantial amount of sunlight, it changes your vitamin D levels. That is one of the hypotheses around seasonal affective disorder, is that people in the northern hemisphere, their vitamin D levels drop and this is true for everyone. 

There's also fascinating research on the impact of your gut health and your mood. Fascinatingly, your digestive tract is the second-largest manufacturer of serotonin in your body. Depending on your microflora, so probiotics, prebiotics, it can really have a substantial impact on the way that you're feeling. I don't know if this has been conducted on humans, but in mice, this is kind of gross, but researchers took happy mice as evidenced by being energetic and kind of curious and licking each other and running around their cages, and unhappy mice that were sort of just sitting there and not wanting to run around the maze or interact with other mice, the depressed mice. 

When they took some fecal materials or poop from the happy mice and seeded the intestinal tract of the depressed mice with the bacteria from the happy mice, the depressed mice became happier because of no other reason than the flora of their intestines. Again, very, very interesting to consider these implications and taking a probiotic every day is pretty easy to do for most people. Again, please don't start doing or taking supplements or things that might not be a good idea for you specifically based on my advice. I am not your doctor, but go get some blood tests, see if there's anything there. Vitamin D, iron, B vitamins, magnesium, if you are deficient in magnesium, you will feel anxious. It's just a sort of straight line of magnesium and anxiety symptoms. 

Those are all really easily modified things. It is as easy as taking a vitamin every morning or getting more sunlight. Talk to your doctor about that if you think that it might be a thing for you, or if you don't have any known reason to not take a good vitamin supplement, especially during the winter, it's something you might want to consider. Also, there's some evidence that fish oil supplements can have an impact on mood and that can be another just super easy thing. 

Another thing that many people do not know about, I did not know about this, is the dramatic impact that even mild levels of dehydration can have on the way that you feel cognitively and emotionally. If you are stressed out at work, there are lots of things that you could do, but try drinking a big glass of water. It's so interesting, even if you are not even aware that you are thirsty, there have been so many studies. People who are just the tiniest bit dehydrated will experience more subjective stress, they will perceive things as being more difficult and complicated than they do after as compared to when they're well hydrated. They have this brain fog kind of experience so it's super real, and it's super easy, so drink more water. 

Body Health and Mind

Then also, there can be other things that are a little bit sneakier to sort of ferret out. For example, if I have somebody come in and say, “You know what? I think I have ADHD.” First of all, ADHD is so real and it is underdiagnosed for a lot of people, particularly women. When somebody shows up and is like, “I want to talk about this,” I first asked them about how they're sleeping and have on more than one occasion, referred somebody out for a sleep apnea test and they have come back and said, “Yeah, I had sleep apnea, and I didn't even realize it.” They got their sleep apnea symptoms treated and then “ADHD” was no longer a thing. 

There are also some interesting, and I won't go through all of them, but if you use an asthma inhaler, that can create ADHD-like symptoms because of the effects of the medication. If you have recently been ill, or have gone through surgery, or broken a leg, or something like that, your body will, by default, create an actual, essentially a depressive episode to protect you while you're healing. There's something called the sickness response. 

Your body is an incredible machine that has over hundreds of thousands of years evolved to keep you alive. That's the number one priority. And it has many interesting ways of doing that and one of them is that when you get sick or when you have been injured, your body will make you feel very, very low, emotionally. It will change the way you think. You will become more pessimistic. You'll feel more hopeless and helpless. You will not want to go anywhere. You will not want to do anything. You will feel tired. That is all of the criteria for major depressive disorder. 

It is your body's highly adaptive evolutionary response to keep you in your house, not circulating amongst people that might give you additional germs or to protect you from risking injuring your body again while you're in the process of healing. I've had so many clients come to me after an illness or a surgery and like, “I don't know what's wrong with me.” It's been three weeks or a month later and they have done quite a bit towards healing but they were genuinely surprised to learn that this was a thing. 

They thought it was depression with a capital D, and I think it just helped them to understand like, “No, you can expect that and it's a good thing that this happens. Your body is keeping you alive; it's doing its job.” The period after having a child, the postpartum period, is similar to that, so there are all kinds of interesting physically-based changes in your body and some of them are vitamin deficiencies but also based on your circumstances and your overall health, that can really dramatically change your emotional state and the way that you think.

It is also true, again, that people will commonly experience very, very real physical symptoms that are, again, I want to say, this not in your head. I think that people who hear that physical symptoms, there is a relationship with what is going on inside of them psychologically, it feels very invalidating. It feels like they're being told that they're just making it up or that it's not real; it's all in your head. I just want to say very clearly, that is not true. There are physical symptoms. Anybody who has ever had IBS, shingles, or high blood pressure, or God forbid, a heart attack will tell you that these are actual physical conditions that require treatment, and that they benefit from being treated. There are medications and things that help with this. 

How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health

What I think is not as well-realized is the impact of the way we feel day-to-day and what that does to all of our sort of physical systems. I think what is also not well-understood is the impact of the way that we think on our emotions and then the impact of our mood state on the way that we think. It's very circular. For example, going back to is the example of anxiety, when we begin to feel anxious, as we often do, being humans, again, we're created to survive in this world and part of that is being vigilant for danger, we're not often in actual physical danger most of the time. 

We are relatively safe: we are sitting in our offices, making podcasts, talking to people, eating our breakfast, driving a car, nothing bad is happening. Because we are so smart and creative, we have these gigantic human brains that are so good at going into the future or replaying events of the past and thinking if this, then that. We are solving potential problems. We are paying attention to what is coming down the pipeline. And we need to finish that assignment by this day so I can do x, y, z. Our brains are always working on stuff and trying to anticipate problems or kind of think: what could be a problem. 

Truly, the problem is that because you are so intelligent and creative, and this is actually worse for people who are exceptionally intelligent and creative, you're good at envisioning things. Particularly if you are a visual thinker, you won't just think about the impact of missing a work assignment sort of generally. You will see your boss's face and see this little mental movie of the consequences of x, y, z or visualize your car skidding off the road into a ditch. 

The issue is that the part of our brains that feel emotions, your brain is built in layers, there's a thinking part of your brain, and then there's a totally different part of your brain that generates emotions based on what's going on in the world around you. That older emotional part of your brain cannot tell the difference between things that you're thinking about and things that are actually happening. 

When you play a mental movie of your car flying off a cliff or your car is actually flying off a cliff, the part of your brain that feels will experience those things similarly. What happens is that the part of your brain that feels emotions will just be like, “Oh my gosh, my car is going off a cliff!” And will squeeze out all these adaptive survival-based hormones, your endocrine system, squirts out adrenaline, cortisol, your breathing speeds up, your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tense. You're preparing for impact. 

You just had a thought in your head, right? You're not actually going off a cliff but your body is like, “No, we're here. We're going to survive this.” Your body is having all these reactions. It changes many things in your body. It changes the way you digest food. It changes the way your immune system works. It changes your circulatory system. You're all awash in adrenaline now. Your body is in a totally different space, and this impacts many physical systems in your body: your digestive process, it impacts what is happening in terms of your blood pressure or your cardiovascular health, migraines, all these things are totally related. 

A fascinating study that came a while ago was conducted on two groups of people, as the best research studies are. A control group had a small, superficial skin injury put on their arm. They basically scuffed the surface of their arm, went down a layer or two of skin, put a bandaid on, and sent them home. The second group of people was identified as being chronically stressed. I think that they may have been caregivers, primary caregivers to people or partners, or possibly parents with dementia, hard stuff, but same deal. They scuffed up their skin, put a bandaid on them, sent them home, and then brought them back to measure how quickly their body was healing. 

You might imagine that people who were living in that day-to-day stress all the time had a lot of stuff to worry about, their bodies literally healed more slowly than those of people who weren't bathing in that stressful broth every single day. The impacts of this stuff are somewhat facetiously, but as real as a heart attack. 

Even in the 1950s and 1960s when this stuff was sort of first being explored, cardiologists would notice that they had to change the upholstery on the chairs in their waiting room a lot more often than the pediatrist next door because they had their type-A high-risk cardiac patients who were super stressed out about things. They were worrying. They were fidgety. They were like, “My appointment was supposed to start five minutes ago,” going up and demanding to be seen at the reception desk. 

That's sort of the stereotypical personality of somebody who has a more increased chance of having a heart attack, and it's because of the way they think, the way they feel, the way they relate to others, and the long term chronic impact that this has on what is happening in their body. This is true for all kinds of things. There's a well-researched assessment, it's called the ACE, which explores adverse childhood experiences, aka childhood trauma. 

If you have a high score on the ACE, so you've lived through really difficult scary things as a child, it is strongly associated with all kinds of long-term health consequences. Some of the thinking behind it is that when people experience serious trauma in childhood, it changes the way they're wired physiologically to a degree: being more vigilant, anticipating something bad happening. 

There's a good reason for that but it also shows up in health, and often, it's not until that earlier trauma is addressed and resolved that people can heal from things like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. These disorders are strongly associated with early childhood trauma. All this stuff is just so real and worth not just thinking about but working on. 

If you are dealing with physical symptoms and you are seeing a doctor and maybe you're getting what you need out of that, fantastic, just consider though that if it's along the lines of anxiety, or depression, or some of these chronic illnesses that show up in your intestinal tract, cardiovascular stuff, whole body kinds of issues, it may be worth talking to a psychologist just to see. You might just wander in and be like, “Here's what's going on,” and they give you an assessment, you walk back out again, nothing changes, that's fine, but what if there is something that is worth talking about? 

You can keep seeing medical doctors and keep doing the treatment and you should, and if you're not getting the results that you want, just consider that there could be other things to investigate, I guess, is what I want to say. 

Healthy Mind and Body

These things are all real and they're also very circular in nature. For example, one of the things that I've noticed in my own life and with a lot of clients is the impact of three things, in particular, both mentally and physically. Probably the biggest one is sleep, I would say. When you don't get enough sleep, your body changes in response to this. Again, everything that happens in your body pretty much is either to keep you alive or to procreate. When it gets very down to the basics, that's why we're here. 

When you consider that if your body is physically stressed, like not getting enough sleep, your body, when it is elevated, it physiologically changes the way you think for you without being asked. It is not in your direct control but when your body is like, “Oh, there's something's going on; there is a threat,” your mind goes into almost vigilance response. Your mind starts looking around for possible problems and scanning your environment for: “What are the bad things that could happen? What should I be worried about? What is going to be really hard? What is just not going to work out?” That problem-focused possible threats, you are designed to do that, it is not your fault. 

Everybody's body disorder does this automatically when they are physically stressed but the problem is that because you are so smart and creative, you will always find something that could be a threat, or could be a problem, or could be a thing to worry about. Since your mind is kind of primed to do that thinking, you will think about that a lot. As a consequence, it will reinforce this physiological, elevated state that will then make your mind even more hyper-focused on the problems and the threats and the things that aren't working out, that aren't going to work out: “This is what's going to happen and it's going to be so bad.” 

When you have that kind of inner thought loop happening in your mind, that is strongly associated with depression and with anxiety. When people experience a major depressive disorder or a depressive episode, that is what is happening. Depression changes the way that your brain works. It changes the way that you think. You have a different internal dialogue happening in your mind when you are struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety. 

There is this interplay between those thoughts, what you're telling yourself, what you're envisioning, and blah, blah, blah, and then, the very real impact that has on your body so now you can't sleep. You're up until three o'clock in the morning worrying about all these things and running through the stuff in your head. That reinforces this physical threat, this physical like, “Oh, no, we're in trouble” physiological response in your body that then cranks up the knob on the depressive thoughts and the anxiety thoughts. 

That's what happens. Another thing that also happens oftentimes with these is when we feel tired, when we feel low, and we don't have any energy, when we're like, “Oh, no, I can't. I don't have time. I'm so stressed. I have to do all these things for work.” What happens when that goes on in your life? What happens in my life is one of the easiest things for me to cut is exercise. Like, “I don't have time or I don't have energy or it's too cold,” all these things so we don't. 

One of the easiest things that any of us can do to combat all of this, both mentally and physiologically, is getting even 20 or 30 minutes of brisk physical activity a day. Walking is just fine. You don't have to go to a gym, you do not have to do anything heroic. You can seriously just jump around with a YouTube exercise video for 20 minutes a day. It has this really significant relaxing effect on your body. When your body relaxes, it starts to relax your mind and make it much easier to shift out of those threat-focused or problem-focused thoughts. It improves your sleep, which then also improves the kind of thoughts that you're having, and your energy levels, which makes it easier to get up like, “Yes, let's do more exercise because I have more energy.” And then, you can think more clearly. You can focus more easily. 

When your brain is working better, the things that felt really stressful problems, you're like, “Oh, I'll just make this phone call. It's not that big of a deal.” All of a sudden, you feel so much better because there isn't this looming thing you've been putting off. When you are taking care of your physical health in these really simple ways, there is this interplay that is huge, hugely impactful much more than that the isolated thing. 

We think about exercising as being good for our health or sometimes, people exercise to change the way that they look. If that is true for you, I will refer you back to the Love Your Body podcast episode that I did with my colleague Stephanie a while ago. We need to move away from that, but physical exercise has a huge impact on your energy levels and the way that your brain works. 

There's also a lot of evidence that getting regular exercise changes the way that your mind works in terms of not just reducing anxiety and depression, although there have been studies that indicate that getting about 30 minutes of exercise a day is around as effective as taking antidepressant medication for reduction of those symptoms. That's something to think about. Also, I just want to say that it is also true that for many people being on medications: antidepressant medications, anti-anxiety medications, or other mood-stabilizing kinds of medications, is a very, very important foundational piece of your overall kind of wellness plan. 

I don't want you to hear me say this and think like, “Oh, I should get off my medications because Dr. Lisa said that I could just walk instead.” Don't do that but you might want to consider adding a nice walk to your daily routine. It will help you feel better, it will help you think better, it will give you more energy, it will help you feel more able to solve solvable problems, and you will get a better night's sleep, all of which have this self-supporting positive impact on your wellness on all of these different levels. 

Sleep and exercise are hugely important, as is nutrition. Visit with your doctor, see if there's anything easy you could try to make sure that you're getting good nutrition, drinking enough water, keeping an eye on whether or not you're taking supplements that are messing up your kind of low-key stimulating things. 

I had another client who could not sleep and it was impacting her so tremendously. Super healthy person, super healthy lifestyle, was not a Diet Coke drinker, no obvious causes, and it took us months to figure out that she was drinking either a shake or it was a supplement, but it had maca. I'm not sure exactly what it was but there was some additive, it was like an herb that for many people probably didn't have any impact at all but for her, it was keeping her up half the night. 

One time, gosh, it's been a while ago but I experimented once with taking St. John's wort, which kept me up all night. I had the weirdest reaction to it. Just look around like, “Are there any herbal supplements or things that I'm taking?” Easy thing to experiment with. If you're having trouble sleeping or if you're struggling with anxiety and you are taking a supplement, what happens if you don't take the supplement for a week? Like that camping trip: “Here's how I feel when I do it. Here's how I feel when I don't.” Then we can have an ABA test. “Now, I'm going to start taking it again and now, what do I notice?” It's okay to have little experiments with yourself. 

Sound Mind in a Sound Body

Also, do not underestimate the power of your mind to change the way that you feel. Very well established that the way we think creates our emotional reaction to everything. Nothing means anything until you decide what it means and when you have control over how you're going to interpret whatever's happening in your life, you automatically have an enormous amount of control over the way that you feel. When you're in control over the way you feel, it has a positive impact, not just on your physical health, but also on your behaviors. 

When we have certain feelings, for example, when you feel worried about something or scared about something, the behavior associated with that is to avoid it, which makes perfect sense if it is an actual threat. But if it is a project assignment that you need to get done for work, and the way that you are thinking about it makes it feel really intense and stressful and overwhelming emotionally, the response will be to avoid that and procrastinate, which will not just make you feel more stressed, but it may actually lead to adverse consequences in your life if you start missing deadlines. Then, you feel really bad. 

Being able to figure out, “How am I thinking?” And I say that like it's very easy to do like we should all be able to sort that out, but the method of doing that is through either cognitive behavioral therapy. The cognitive part being operative here, which helps you understand, “How am I thinking? What are my core beliefs? What am I telling myself? And how do I intentionally shift that in order to feel better and to get better results in my life?” 

There's cognitive behavioral therapy, there's also such a thing as cognitive-behavioral coaching, which is where therapy is the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. If you have arrived in a space where you actually do have major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder that is quite entrenched, and it's impacting your ability to function, you need cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

If you're resonating with what I'm saying today and don't have an actual mental health diagnosis but want to make improvements in these areas, I would suggest cognitive-behavioral coaching, which is not focused so much on symptom reduction, but it's really helping you figure out just all of these different elements. “Holistically, what is the interplay between how I am thinking and how I am feeling, and how does my mood state impact my thoughts? And then, what happens to my physical process when I'm thinking and feeling this way? And then, when I'm in this physical state, what is the impact that is having on my mind and my body?” Hugely interesting and I think very useful and very productive for most of us. 

When I personally start not feeling so great, I've learned this over the years, “Okay, what's changed? What am I doing? What am I telling myself? Am I exercising? No, I'm not exercising. Yeah, I need to go do that.” Very reliably, usually within a short amount of time, it really changes the way that I feel. I've seen this work so many times for my clients, and I think it can work for you too. 

I really hope that this episode, this time we spent together today has given you some ideas for how to support yourself on every level, particularly heading into winter. I hope you experiment with them and see what kind of impact they have, and I would always love to hear about your outcomes or any follow-up questions that you have for me. If you want to leave comments, the post for this podcast is going to be growingself.com/mind-body-connection. 

You can cruise on over, leave comments for me, or get in touch through Instagram, or email on hello@growingself.com, or Instagram: @drlisamariebobby. Leave your follow-up questions or comments so I can address them and thank you, again, for spending this time with me today. I will be back in touch next week with more love, happiness, and success advice for you, and here's more Fake Names with Darkest Days.

[Outro song: Darkest Days by Fake Names]


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