We all strive to live a happy and fulfilling life. Whilst this can take many shapes and forms, we generally need a balance of physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing to feel content and at peace. Our health is a dynamic and intricate dance between body (physical) and mind (non-physical). The recent outbreak of COVID19, which threatens our physical selves, has left many feeling powerless, anxious, and depressed. How we feel in our physical body can impact our mental states, these in turn produce stress hormones or endorphins in our physical bodies. The opposite is also true, our mental states can impact how healthy our bodies are. Anyone who has experienced mental illness is well aware that the simple acts of getting out of bed, eating or personal care can seem like insurmountable challenges.
Our society, including our healthcare system, has a tendency to view and treat body and mind as separate entities, with very little connection between the two. Neuroscience, however, demonstrates, that mental states originate in the brain, which is intertwined with the whole body through the nervous system. Our earliest physical experiences lead the brain to develop ‘templates’, neural connections, about the world and the self, that will influence how we interact with our environment. This in turn will shape our experiences, our relationship with others, and our sense of self. We experience the world through an embodied self.
In a culture that focuses on achievement, targets and outputs, we stress the mind, and treat the body as a ‘thing’. At one end of the scale, we neglect our bodies. We are too busy, we are physically exhausted with no time or energy left to treat our physical selves with respect and care, eating nutritious food, or exercising regularly. Alternatively, we treat our bodies as yet another accomplishment, something that requires obsessive manipulation and constant vigilance in order to conform to random socially constructed standards of beauty and acceptability. Our bodies become nothing more than a shallow measure of success and acceptability. We associate outward appearance with our worth as a person.
For many people, the physical body becomes a battleground, associated with anxiety, depression, and a rising number of eating disorders, which lead to either obesity or anorexia. These serious mental health conditions rob the individual, their families, and society of enormous potential.
We can begin our quest for happiness by transforming our relationship between body and mind in a holistic way. A better understanding of the interconnectedness of body and mind, will not only improve our physical wellbeing, giving us increased energy and resilience, but also an inner sense of calm, wellbeing, and balance.