The power of the mind and the effect that our thoughts have on the body are no longer mystical theories, as they once were. In fact, scientific research continues to show how stress and mental states such as depression and anxiety can affect our organs and the general health of the body.
The Neural Link to our Physical Stress Response
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh have identified that the neural network of the brain connects up to the adrenal medulla, which is located inside each adrenal gland that sit on top of the kidneys. The adrenals regulate part of the body’s response to stressful situations. Specifically, they produce the hormone cortisol, which regulates metabolism and helps the body react to danger. Unfortunately, the body does not distinguish between physical danger or psychological danger, aka stress.
If we allow ourselves to succumb to stressful situations and become generally anxious, then the adrenals work overtime and produce too much cortisol. As a result, we can create psychosomatic illness in the body.
The researchers believe that they found a very important neurological connection between the mind and body. The study alludes that the power of the mind may be effective in decreasing the chances of physical illness due to chronic stress and mental conflict. Furthermore, the connection is one anatomical explanation for why the body reacts when we meditate or practice mindful movement, such as yoga.
Power of the Mind Can Lessen Physical Effects of Stress
In addition, the researchers discovered that the connection between the brain and the adrenal glands is much more complex than we’ve speculated. In fact, the study showed that multiple areas of the brain actually control the adrenal medulla. The biggest influences include motor areas of the cerebral cortex and areas involving cognition.
The fact that the cognition parts of the brain affect our response to stress is of great significance. It may mean that we actually have more authority over the body’s reaction to stressful situations. May it be possible to use the mind to lessen reflexive “fight-or-fight” effects, such as increased heart rate and sweating?
The study’s senior author Peter L. Strick, Ph.D., Thomas Detre Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and scientific director of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, states:
Because we have a cortex, we have options.
If someone insults you, you don’t have to punch them or flee. You might have a more nuanced response and ignore the insult or make a witty comeback. These options are part of what the cerebral cortex provides.
The Mind and Self-preservation
How you respond to stress can have a huge impact on your life. When we experience extended periods of stress, our blood pressure rises and the immune system starts to struggle. As a result, we are at a higher risk of developing chronic illness.
Consequently, understanding that the power of the mind can lessen the body’s motor reflexes to “fight-or-flight” gives us a powerful self-preservation tool. Learning to use the mind effectively can, thus, mediate the effects of stress on our body’s physical systems. In the long term, this means less chronic illness and overall better health.
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