This Study Confirms The Mind/Body Connection In Chronic Illness

Physical and Mental Illness and the Mind Body Connection

A study published in the journal Health Affairs found that among adult patients 18+ diagnosed with any mental disorder, including depression, 55.8% of those patients had four or more co-existing chronic medical conditions. Only 8% of patients diagnosed with a mental disorder had no chronic physical illnesses. This confirms what has been clear for decades: mind state significantly affects physical health. Yet, the contribution of patients’ emotions to their physical illnesses is rarely addressed, even by many alternative healthcare providers.

The Early Research on the Mind Body Connection and Health 

In 1936, Dr. Hans Selye published an article in the journal Nature that described how stress induces hormonal changes in the body that over time can lead to many chronic diseases, including ulcers, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, kidney disease and allergic reactions.

Nicholas Cummings, a psychologist who did research at Kaiser Permanente starting in the 1960s, found that he could predict the amount of emotional distress a patient was in by the thickness of his medical chart. In addition, Cummings found that psychotherapy, even one focused visit, could significantly reduce overall medical expenditures for at least the next five years. This reduction in overall health expenditures held true even for patients who had extended, frequent psychotherapy treatment.

Cummings’ research, in particular, was the basis for adding psychotherapy coverage to health insurance plans. This research, however, seems to have been forgotten in more recent times as psychiatric drugs, which do not reduce the’ underlying causes of patients’ misery, have become the preferred method of treating emotional complaints such as fear and sadness.

It Goes Both Ways

Of course, if someone is physically ill, the illness itself can cause psychological distress that can be diagnosed as depression or anxiety. Even if the distress is caused by the illness, as can occur after an acute injury, addressing and reducing the emotional distress involved can improve healing.

More Recent Research

Subsequent decades of research have continued to confirm the value of mind/body interventions in improving physical health and reducing the need for other medical interventions, including pharmaceuticals. These proven mind/body interventions include various types of psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy, energy psychology and EMDR), meditation, relaxation training, hypnosis, biofeedback and neurofeedback.

The mechanisms involved have been thoroughly researched and are well understood. When a person is emotionally distressed, it sets off a cascade of changes known as the stress response or “fight or flight”. These changes include increased muscle tension, heart rate and respiration and decreased blood flow to extremities, immune response, digestion, healing and maintenance. These physiological changes are adaptive if the stressor is acute—being chased by a tiger, for instance. They give us extraordinary strength and speed to escape danger. But when maintained over time because we are chronically stressed, these chronic changes create physical illness. This often happens in people with a history of trauma, particularly chronic childhood trauma.

What You Can Do

So, if you want to optimize your physical wellbeing, including finding relief from pain, you need to address the psychological as well as the physical component.

This blog is reposted from: – All credit belongs to and Cindy Perlin, LCSW.

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