We all know the benefits that physical exercise can have on our physical state. It’ll prevent you from developing a stack of chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and osteoporosis to name a few. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard of the benefits that physical exercise has on our state of mind. Getting active will help drive you away from that constant niggle or that recurring pain. What’s more, is that it will help to reduce your anxiety and negative emotions – cue the healthy body for a healthy mind maxim.
Why is it when we flip this to – healthy mind for a healthy body – people think you’re a hippie? It could be partly due to the ongoing stigma which still exists around people’s mental health. I also believe that when people are in pain they simply don’t understand how addressing their state of mind can affect their physical state. I love being a physiotherapist because we are at the forefront of challenging society’s misconception surrounding the mind-body connection. For the record – It’s not a one-way relationship between the body and the mind but instead a flux between the two. This means that without one the other will suffer and you’ll fall short of your potential well-being!
When people are in pain they will focus heavily on the physical aspect of their pain. For example, “I have back- knee- or shoulder- pain.” If you disregard the physical component you are left with pain – the mind component. Bombshell. Yes, pain is an output from the brain. You interpret electrical signals in the brain and decide whether it deserves the title of pain. Too often when people are in pain there is a focus on the physical aspect of their pain. I believe a person’s mind is the key to recovery no matter the severity of their condition. It is a crucial first step and can sometimes be the missing link in their quest towards 100%.
Alright, let’s have a look at a common condition – low back pain. With around 87% of Australians experiencing back pain at some point in their life, chances are you can relate. Back pain is the worst. It gets in the way of you completing basic runs of the mill tasks. Clients are generally heavily focussed on their pain which turns up the sensitivity dial to 11. Meaning that basic movements are interpreted as painful movements. This drives negative emotions such as fear and anxiety which can affect what we do physically. Avoid this and that until you’re lying flat on the couch watching Netflix though you’re far from chilling! Your mind will be racing. Thoughts will pop into your mind. Dr Google generally doesn’t help as these thoughts of a terminal or chronic illness may be confirmed. A belief of your new normal and that movement equals pain may set in. “My back is stuffed.” Your pain will most likely affect your performance at work and you may start to withdraw from your social events. This recurring pain causes anxiety which if left unchecked may lead to depression.
For people in pain, this is a common scenario! In fact, you are 4x more likely to have depression if you have persistent pain. Often you will know your pain point and you will want treatment focussed on “fixing” that area. Can you start to see why focussing on the physical aspect of your pain alone is not the best form of treatment?
The mind-body connection is powerful. Just like the body, the mind must be trained. It should be respected as a powerful tool that can be used to reduce pain, increase activity and ultimately improve your life. Practicing regular meditation, yoga and mindfulness are all ways we can treat and train the mind. These are backed by a stack of research too by the way. It’s not as hippie as you may think!
A healthy mind will result in a healthy body!