If you’ve ever found yourself sweating from nerves or anxiety even though it isn’t hot, you’ve experienced the mind-body connection. But sometimes we focus on the mind-body connection and overlook the body-mind connection. It's important to remember that the body influences the mind just as the mind influences the body.
In fact, for many of us (myself included!) it’s often easier to approach the body in the hopes of positively influencing the mind or emotions than going about it the opposite way. The body is a physical, tangible entity. What we do to it — how we feed it, how much rest we get, etc. — are very concrete and easily observable. I’m not suggesting that the subtle or emotional self is less real than the physical one. But sometimes the emotional self seems less clear and harder to access. In other words, it may be easier to make changes with the body in order to help keep the mind and emotions balanced.
If you’re feeling moody, or you’re in a funk you just can’t shake, it’s a good idea to check in with your body. You’ll likely find that tuning in to the needs of your body will help your mental state as well.
Here are a few ways you can take advantage of the body-mind connection:
1. Get some exercise.
I always find that I’m at my calmest after practicing yoga. I feel more even tempered and better able to tackle whatever the universe throws my way. But yoga is definitely not the only way to get the blood flowing and get happy. I’m sure you’ve heard of or experienced a runner’s high — that feeling of mild euphoria experienced during exercise. Well, there’s science to back it up. When we exercise, the brain produces endorphins, which create feelings of wellbeing and even help relieve pain.
2. Get enough sleep.
If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter, you know how difficult it is to be chipper the next day. But lack of sleep has even bigger consequences than grumpiness. Researchers have linked sleeplessness to depression. Lack of sleep also results in poor concentration and impairs our reasoning and problem solving. While you sleep, your brain consolidates memories, which allows you to remember what happened the previous day more efficiently and effectively.
3. Eat right.
I know, I know, this one is hard. Cookies are delicious, and sometimes you just don’t want a heaping plate of kale. But studies have repeatedly shown that what you put in your body affects your mood. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and flaxseed) may help prevent depression. Getting enough protein and complex carbohydrates (like starchy veggies and whole grains) helps regulate the brain’s production of serotonin, which regulates mood and promotes feelings of wellbeing.
This should come as no surprise, but sugar is a bummer. You probably know that consuming refined sugar causes your body to peak and then crash, leading to fatigue and irritability. But did you know that sugar and refined carbs can actually worsen your mood? When your body digests sugar and carbohydrates, it depletes your supply of B vitamins, which play a role in mood regulation and may help prevent symptoms of depression.
Of course, everyone’s body is different. Try keeping a food journal, recording what you eat and how you feel (both physically and mentally) afterwards. Chances are, you'll be able to identify what makes you feel good or not so good.
4. Get outside.
Of course it’s great to get in touch with nature instead of staring at your computer screen. But, yet again, there’s science behind that happy feeling you get from stepping out in the sunshine. The sun is a great way to get some vitamin D, which in turn increases serotonin levels in the brain, keeping you calm and happy.
So if you’ve got the blues, and can’t seem to shake them, don’t beat yourself up. Understand that this might be your body’s way of telling you to get into healthier habits.