Does mental health affect physical health? “A man is what he thinks about all day long,” wrote American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is just one of the countless sayings about the power and strength of our thoughts. Known and unknown, signed and unsigned authors have contributed to one of the most exciting chapters of human psychology.
There is a powerful and close connection between our thoughts and bodies, our fears, anxieties, disappointments, or joys concerning all those changes in tissues, organs, and organ systems.
“Do you think you can or do you think you can’t; in both cases, you’re right,” is a famous saying from the arsenal of the modern theory of positive thinking. And scientists who have studied the effects of thoughts on our bodies have long since established a truth that you could tell something like this: “If I look at your body today, I know what your thoughts were yesterday. Knowing your thoughts today, I can guess what your body will look like tomorrow.” It is a powerful and close connection between our thoughts and bodies, our fears, anxieties, disappointments, or joys, with all those changes in tissues, organs, and organ systems. Unfortunately, much less is said and written about this relationship than it should be.
Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health?
One 1987 study (M.R. Jansen, Yale University) confirmed that breast cancer spreads faster among women who experience extreme hopelessness and frustration in life, fear, or other negative emotions.
In the past, only a narrow circle of physical illnesses was called psychosomatic illnesses. We counted high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and heart attacks, and that’s where the list usually ended. Today, it is already proven that several diseases, and those of a purely physical nature, are caused by psychological factors. Examples are countless, to name a few: appendicitis, gout, and metabolic diseases are actually exacerbated by negative emotions, attitudes, fears, and preconceptions; many scientists claim that despair and hopelessness increase the risk of heart attack and cancer.
How Negative Emotions Affect Your Health
Little is known that emotional factors are strongly associated with rheumatoid arthritis. This disorder seems to affect women who have a tendency to suppress their feelings, who, instead of getting angry and facing severe emotional problems, accept passivity and depression as a response to life’s problems.
There is a close connection between emotions, body position, and the many orthopedic ailments that occur. Nervous and frustrated people uniquely hold their heads unnaturally, with constant strain on the cervical spine muscles. Such posture causes damage to the spine. For similar reasons, depressed, sad, insecure, and listless people have a lowered thoracic spine.
“Sometimes even an X-ray of a patient’s spine can give a sense of the psychological profile,” says Japanese physician Kazuhiro MinatiYa. The opposite is also true: “From the patient’s behavior, I often conclude in advance what the picture of his spine might be.”
It is not new, and it is not unknown how much stress contributes to the onset and worsening of the disease, but little is still known about what stress is for the body.
Orthopedists have long known and warned – depressive conditions cause long-term muscle tension without the possibility of relief. The result is muscle stiffness, which in turn affects the improper loading of the spine. The body can still compensate for the physical overload, but an actual illness occurs if it is also a matter of mental overstrain.
Our Great Opportunity
Fortunately, just as everything has its other side, the problem of the impact of emotions on the body has a brighter view. Namely, just as negative thoughts and ugly memories can gradually destroy our spirit and our body, so it is possible to reverse the process: positive and good thoughts, pleasant and beautiful memories have a beneficial and healing effect on every cell of our body, sometimes bringing miraculous improvements, healings, happiness, and health. The placebo effect is no longer shrouded in mystery but has been scientifically elaborated on and explained in detail. In short, say the experiments, if they get a placebo, i.e., a fake drug, 30 percent of patients will experience the same effect as if they had received an actual painkiller. What practice does this information point to? A whole range of new treatment methods is based on the power of (positive) thoughts. After all, the Bible says: As you believe, so will you. Joy and fulfillment make us healthy and prolong life. This means scientists conclude that the line between biology and psychology cannot be drawn with certainty. William James, the father of American psychology, said, “Whatever you imprint in the subconscious will move both heaven and earth to come true. Therefore, you only need to transmit the right ideas and creative thoughts to the subconscious.”
If this advice seems too poetic and unreal, here are documented examples from the professional and scientific literature.
In the 1970s, in a well-known series of experiments at Menninger Clinic, Indian yogi Swami Rama demonstrated the ability to change his heart rate at will from 70 to 300 beats per minute, thus to a speed far above normal. The bio-feedback method can be used to learn how to manage unwanted processes. Therefore, patients suffering from high blood pressure learn to regulate the diameter of their blood vessels by responding to light signals that tell them whether their blood vessels are too dilated or narrowed—days or weeks in lifeboats after their ships sank. As a rule, the youngest man would always die. This phenomenon remained a secret until it was realized that the older sailors, who survived the sinking, knew that the crisis could be happily overcome.
Laughter Is Health
If you laugh and smile, you are actually miraculously acting on your health through several physical and mental factors. The feeling of joy contributes to health and the undoubted and direct impact of laughter on the body.
- For example:
while laughing, activating, and strengthening the abdominal muscles and diaphragm;
- abdominal movements deepen your breathing, and this increases the flow of oxygen to the body and improves circulation;
- laughing dilates blood vessels which accelerates tissue healing;
- If you smile and laugh, you stimulate the production of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), which creates a feeling of joy;
- when you laugh, you help your lymphatic system get rid of waste products, burn fat and relax muscles.
Emotions and Immunity
Many doctors and psychologists believe that there is a vital relationship between emotions and how the immune system works. Negative emotions such as guilt, hopelessness, repressed anger, and fear are common among people living with AIDS and can weaken the body’s ability to fight infection. You will be healthier and live longer if you do everything you can to maintain a positive attitude. Moments of unhappiness and depression are inevitable, and one must not blame oneself for being overwhelmed by these states, but one must acquire the habit of eliminating negative thoughts. Scientists and psychotherapists agree that yoga exercises and meditation help a lot. Researchers at the University of Nebraska School of Medicine have concluded after many experiments that older people, men, and women who have at least one good friend they can trust show better immune function, lower cholesterol, and less uric acid in their blood. For women, good interpersonal relationships and friendships are, if not the most expressive means of further development, then certainly in second or third place in importance. Therefore, many women view their relationships as an essential prerequisite for achieving happiness in life.
How to Change Your Thoughts
We leave this simple question to the end. The response of superficial healers, charlatans, and hunters to quick earnings is usually straightforward and reads: “Think positive, and your life will change! Immediately, from this moment, you will become a different person!” Unfortunately, things are not so simple. It would be like telling a beginner violinist just to imagine himself as a virtuoso, and from tomorrow his music will be perfect. It doesn’t work that way. In particular, one can focus all one’s thoughts on being slim from tomorrow and getting rid of obesity. Still, if one does not start with a systematic change in eating habits and regular exercise, no positive thoughts will change his body and his physiology. They don’t fall from heaven to us overnight without toil, patience, or effort. But this should not discourage you, just as a novice violinist should not be discouraged at the start of his long journey to perfection. Masterpieces were created at the time of inspiration, but most of the valuable achievements required long and patient work. And just such long and patient work requires changing yourself, your habits, thoughts, and attitudes. Fortunately, ways exist, and techniques are known. Yoga, in particular, has developed several effective mental techniques over the five millennia of its existence that can systematically change your ingrained habits, attitudes, and negative thoughts.