Scientists are still trying to figure out the direct link between our emotions and disease. They haven’t been capable of proving evidentially that a person’s state of mind can cause or cure a specific disease, but we can’t deny that the mind and body is a spiritual field.
What scientists have proven is the ability to determine the understanding of the body’s immune system.
It’s not practical to pick one particular emotion such as anger and link it to a specific disease like a heart attack. However, they have discovered that the immune system can respond to certain stresses that are induced in the body.
What Is The Immune System?
An immune system is a group of cells, molecules, and organs that act together to defend the body against foreign invaders that may cause diseases such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
The health of the body is dependent on the immunes system’s ability to recognize and then repel or destroy diseases.
What Affects The Immune System?
Having a healthy diet, physical fitness, and a positive emotional state can stimulate and strengthen the body’s immune system.
But illnesses, engaging in drugs, and excessive stress can gravely weaken the immune system.
Emotions have a huge impact on the immune system that scientists even report that people in depressed and negative emotional states may be especially vulnerable to diseases affecting the immune system such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.
Understanding The Mind And Body Connection.
The brain is the engine that gears your body. So it’s not too surprising to learn that whatever condition or state your brain is in, affects and leads to problems with your stomach health.
Anxiety can link to stomach problems. Expressions such as ‘gut-wrenching’, ‘butterflies in your stomach’, ‘feel nauseous’ after being placed in an uncomfortable situation have some truth to it.
It has been established that having a chronic illness increases the risk of experiencing psychological distress and that living with a long-term condition can have an impact on social development, family relationships, education, and age-related developmental tasks affecting identity, resilience, and self-esteem as well as future ambitions.
Later on. I am going to discuss two common illnesses, chronic pain and functional gastrointestinal disorders that correlate with the mind and body connection.
Note that even though these two conditions are distinctive, keep in mind that abdominal pain is in many cases part of the FGIDs diagnosis.
Understanding the Gut and Mind connection
The gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to emotion, anger, anxiety, and sorrow. These are the feelings that tend to trigger symptoms in the gut.
Our brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines.
This is demonstrated in cases where a person often experiences gastrointestinal upset with no source of a physical cause. This makes it very hard for specialists to try and heal a distressed gut without considering the role of stress and emotion.
Problems that arise with your gastrointestinal tract is known as Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs). It is easy to understand why you might feel nauseated before going on a roller coaster ride or even feel intestinal pain during times of stress.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that these problems occur when your imagination takes root but here is where psychology comes into play. The very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets in.
This connection happens in two ways – ”An intestine that is under s troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or outcome of anxiety, stress, or depression”. (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020 )
The reason why is the brain and the gastrointestinal system are closely connected.
Psychosocial (influenced by life experiences or individual thought and behavior) circumstances determine the biological functions of the gut as well as signs.
In simple terms, stress or depression influences the contractions of the Gastrointestinal tract.
People with FGIDs recognize pain more chronically than others do because their brains are receptive to pain signals from the Gastrointestinal tract. The presence of stress can even make the existing pain extremely worse.
It is suggested that the root causes of FGIDs involve a wide range of factors like genetics, social learning, psychology, biology, immunology, and individual factors.
These multiple physiological ( a branch of biology that deals with the normal functions of living organisms and their parts) are hard to identify using conventional medicine.
Therapy that involves the reduction of stress and treats mental disorders can help people who suffer from FGIDs. Studies have shown that psychological approaches have a greater improvement rate on digestive symptoms compared to conventional methods.
However, stress-related symptoms felt in the gastrointestinal tract vary from one person to the other, and treatment can vary as well.
Defining Chronic pain and FGIDs (Functional gastrointestinal disorders)
Chronic pain is defined as ‘pain lasting longer than three months or beyond the expected healing time’.
It occurs in 415% of the standard adolescent population. With a ratio between 11% and 38% in children with headache (883%), musculoskeletal pain(440%) and abdominal pain(453%) have been the most frequently reported types of pain within these given demographics.
Having a pediatric chronic pain experience can increase the risk of developing mental illness in adulthood, regardless of whether pain symptoms continue into adulthood.
Childhood experiences of abuse that involve either emotional, sexual, and physical are established in adults who are diagnosed with painful functional disorders, such as FGIDs, fibromyalgia ( a disorder that is identified by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues), headaches, pelvic and chronic pain.
There is an increased vulnerability of anxiety and depressive symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorders in children who have chronic pain. And compared to children who don’t have chronic pain, children with chronic pain are more likely to have seen a mental health professional.
Children often internalize whatever they are going through so those internalized emotions often present themselves as mental disorders or chronic pain.
Research has shown that higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms in early adolescence (aged 10 – 11 ) are associated with prevalent headaches across adolescence. There has been increasing evidence to understand these links with a study highlighting the major role poor sleep plays in these disorders.
Throughout history, the mind and body became separated in the medical literature, and beside bio-psychosocial evidence that shows the correlation between the two, the modern medical study still reflects the notion that the mind and body are still separated by design.
Some are even reluctant to accept the role of psycho-social play in their illnesses, but Pediatric diagnoses such as chronic pain and functional gastrointestinal disorders provide evidence of the links between the mind and body. And emotions cause genuine chemical and physical responses in the body that can result in pain and discomfort.
Behavioral therapy and stress reduction treatments help manage and improve other symptoms in ways that are different from how drugs act. The goal of all therapies is to reduce anxiety, encourage healthy behaviors, and help people cope with the pain and discomfort of their condition.
Caes, Line & Orchard, Alex & Christie, Deborah. Connecting the mind–body split: Understanding the relationship between symptoms and emotional well-being in chronic pain and functional gastrointestinal disorders. (2017). ResearchGate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321580412_Connecting_the_Mind-Body_Split_Understanding_the_Relationship_between_Symptoms_and_Emotional_Well-Being_in_Chronic_Pain_and_Functional_Gastrointestinal_Disorders
Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, April 23). The gut-brain connection. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection