Last week’s post about the Mind-Body Connection put a lot of emphases on the so-called placebo effect which connects our thoughts to our bodies and allows us to see physical changes in our bodies simply stemming from the mind. I provided you with loads of scientifically proven examples. Today, we are focussing on one of our leading causes of Western disease: Stress. We already covered last week what stress does and how it manifests itself in the body. This week I will show you the power of the mind in connection with stress and how we may be able to reverse it.
The Benefits of Kindness
Kindness. I personally love kindness because it is something that does not cost you anything and you can always offer it in pretty much any situation. When interacting with other humans or ourselves, we can choose to be kind and show compassion towards others, even if we may not fully understand their situation. But kindness is so much more than that. Kindness is the opposite of stress. Kind thoughts steer us towards something positive and peaceful.
You might be thinking right now: “Hang on a minute – kindness is not the opposite of stress”. Peace or calm are. Technically, peace or calm are the absence of stress but not the opposite. If you find yourself in a stressful situation, and you think kind thoughts you will likely calm down and become more relaxed. This is the effect that we are feeling. But there is a lot more happening inside our bodies.
See, when we think kindly, we produce oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is primarily involved in all stages of female reproduction. But, oxytocin can also impact our emotional, cognitive, and social behaviors. Research into oxytocin demonstrates that it has an impact on emotional responses contributing to relaxation and trust, as well as a reduction in stress and levels of anxiety. Oxytocin also is receptive to our blood vessels. They can soften our blood vessel walls and make them wider. This allows the heart to be able to do less work, pump a little bit slower and thereby reduce our blood pressure. Basically, when we think kindly, we produce the opposite effect of stress in our bodies.
And – oxytocin does not stop there. It also has amazing anti-inflammatory benefits and at the same time also acts as an antioxidant. It can clear out oxidative stress from our blood (again super helpful in for our heart health) and is important for muscle regeneration.
Oxytocin may also be able to slow down the aging process. How? The its’ antioxidant power. Scientists conducted a study with skin cells that make up ca. 95% of our bodies. They added biological stress to them and saw the free radicals destroying the skin cells pretty quickly (this was all done under a microscope). They conducted the same experiment again. This time though, they added oxytocin, which was able to combat some of these aging processes in our skin cells.
The Benefits of Meditation
We have to touch on this topic that has become infinitely more popular in recent years: Meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven to improve your immune system, lower blood pressure, increase productivity, and inspire creative thinking. In other words: It promotes the opposite of what stress does to our bodies). It has also been shown to reduce signs of depression and significantly helps people with managing their anxiety. The practice of compassion has also been shown to have a positive effect on our health, emotional wellbeing, and happiness levels.
But – to bring this back to the mind-body connection – different styles of meditation have been shown to have different effects on the brain. For example, if you do a mindful breathing exercise you are working a part of the brain that is also responsible for working muscles at the gym. The brain does not notice the difference between the two, our brains “grow” in the same way. Mantra-based mediations usually quiet down the areas of our brain that experience a lot of mental chatter. So by the style of meditation you are doing you can actually train your mind, and thereby your body, into a certain direction. How cool is that?
The Benefits of Nature
If you have been with me for a while, you know that this is one of my favorite ways to relax and rejuvenate. And it is truly so beneficial to our soul. Why? Because as a species, we have always lived surrounded by nature. We could feel and see the sun shine and set, we were able to listen to birds, frogs, other animals. A resting-state for the nervous system was correlated with our feelings at the time – being surrounded by nature. Nature is so associated with feelings of calm in our bodies that we may not even notice it. However, our body knows automatically to put us into a restorative state once we experience nature.
In fact, we are so ‘wired’ that research shows that hospital patients recover faster if they are able to see trees from their windows (rather than, say, a car park). There was also a study done where scientists put people into the same rooms, but half of them contained plants. It was shown that people who had plants in their hospital rooms were able to tolerate pain a lot better (and more of it) due to said greenery. All of this through the subconsciousness of our minds!!
The Benefits of Kindness: The Takeaway
I hope I have shown you over the last two blog posts how strong our mind-body connection is. And that, by now, there is actual physical evidence displayed in our bodies from the benefit of the mind. This puts us into a wonderful, and extremely powerful situation. It means that we hold a lot more power than we sometimes give us credit for. It also means that we have something that we can access easily and for free. I find this incredibly powerful!
Next week, I will conclude this blog post series by talking about gratitude and affirmations. Both of those are incredibly powerful tools in order to reframe our minds and thinking to positive, loving, kind feelings that we now know are so beneficial for our bodies. Beautiful cover photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.