Research has continually shown there is a strong link between mental health and physical health. You may have heard it called the mind-body connection. Yet many people only focus on one or the other in their wellness journey. When it comes to overall wellness, there’s so much more to it than eating right or meditating a few times a week. Because August is National Wellness Month, we’re bringing attention to the powerful connection between your mind and your body.
What constitutes a healthy lifestyle?
So many of us claim we’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle, but what does that actually mean? We often associate health with physical wellness: diet, exercise, weight and appearance. However, a healthy lifestyle should ideally consist of habits that promote both physical and mental wellness. That’s not to say that maintaining a healthy weight and eating clean aren’t important! As with most things in life, wellness is all about balance.
In a study on the impact of physical activity on mental wellbeing, researchers found that adding exercise to a daily routine actually increased feelings of happiness. In the study, individuals who started the intervention with little physical activity benefited the most from the lifestyle change:
“The findings revealed…a strong, positive correlation between increase in physical activity and increase in mental wellbeing.”Marc Ashley Harris, Cardiff Metropolitan University
Lifestyle plays a critical role in our overall wellness. And turns out, there is actual truth to the fact that exercise can make you happy! So next time you’re feeling a little down, try to add some movement to your day. Yoga and walking are great low-impact exercises. Or you can get sweaty with some HIIT and kickboxing routines. Establishing a regular exercise routine is a great idea to help maintain that positive mood boost throughout the week.
Happy = Healthy
Now let’s talk about the mental health side of the equation. Being happy isn’t just about not being sad or depressed. There are many factors that contribute to mental wellness. In fact, this research study found that the simple absence of negativity doesn’t necessarily make us happy or healthy. By engaging in behaviors that lead to positive feelings, we actually can improve our physical health as well.
“We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction and happiness are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of such factors as a person’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status or body weight.”Lead author Julia Boehm
What does this mean for your wellness journey? When you’re working to improve your mental wellbeing, it’s not just about banishing negative feelings. You also need to cultivate the positive feelings to get that happy, satisfied effect. For example, instead of simply not engaging with negative self-talk, turn those negative comments into positive affirmations. It may be helpful to make a list: put your habits that result in negative feelings on one side, and habits that enhance your positivity on the other. Then, try to trade one negative habit for a positive habit.
Remember, it’s ok to have bad days — it happens to all of us! A few days of sadness or stress isn’t going to undo years of healthy habits. Having your positive behavior list can help you get yourself out of a rut, too. Whenever you’re feeling less than awesome, engage in some positivity-enhancing behavior to light up your mind-body connection!
Chronic illnesses and the mind-body connection
Chronic illnesses, or conditions that are persistent and recurring, can be physical or mental. And surprisingly, they are often correlated. Physical chronic illnesses are often debilitating and hinder daily tasks, which can be incredibly frustrating. Chronic pain especially can lead to depression and anxiety around not being able to meet expectations with friends, family, or at work. Chronic mental conditions have a similar effect. The added stress and fatigue of suffering from mental health conditions like depression often result in physical symptoms.
When treating and managing chronic conditions, it’s important to remember the mind-body connection. Balancing a combination of mental and physical therapies may provide more complete relief for those suffering from chronic conditions.
5 ways to strengthen the mind-body connection
Learning to harness the power of the mind-body connection takes time and practice. If you’re looking for ways to celebrate National Wellness Month with us, these activities make excellent additions to your wellness journey.
- Sit up straight. Having good posture is actually an instant mood and focus booster! Slouching can make us feel moody, sad, and tired, even if we aren’t.
- Get a massage. Massages are super-relaxing, but they also stimulate the mind-body connection by bringing awareness to different parts of the body that are often ignored. During your session, pay close attention to any pain or sensations in your body, and notice how you feel after the massage. Book an on-demand massage now to try it.
- Try yoga. It’s not just a great workout. Yoga is actually all about the mind-body connection! During your yoga practice, listen to the cues from your body as you move. With regular practice, you’ll learn to identify what your body needs and is asking for through your yoga, instead of pushing yourself into positions that may not feel good.
- Visualize positivity. Visualization is a powerful tool that strengthens your mind, and helps you manifest what you want. Many athletes use visualization before a big play or game to “see” the best course of action. You can apply this to any aspect of your life. Visualization meditations are also a great way to increase gratitude, optimism, and creativity.
- Listen to your own physiological cues. It’s called a “gut feeling” for a reason! We often push away these physical signs of stress, anxiety or fear by putting up mental blocks. Instead of ignoring them, learn to recognize the warning signs and make more informed decisions.