Your phone alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m., and you roll over to unplug your phone from its charger. You scroll through a bunch of unanswered emails, the latest news headlines and social media feeds. Strangely fascinated by the holiday photos of someone you never really spoke to at school? Check. Guilt about the emails you didn’t answer because you got distracted by a “where are they now” pop-up? Check. Brief contemplation about the state of the world? Check. You go about your day with that nagging feeling that there’s something you’ve forgotten to do. But that’s okay. Sure enough, you remember exactly what you were meant to do just as you’re trying to go to sleep. Is it any wonder that most of us suffer from a continuous hum of low-grade stress that can lead to us looking for medical help?
Stress, Cellular Damage and Disease
The data backs this up—between 60 and 90 percent of medical visits are linked to stress-induced conditions. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re booking
medical appointments to talk about a looming deadline. What it does mean is that certain conditions may be exacerbated by or caused by stress. When we’re stressed, we evoke the “fight or flight” response. This is where our body goes into preservation mode and secretes hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. This natural mechanism is built into our DNA to help us in life-threatening situations. However, it’s not just physical danger that stimulates this response. There are times when we might evoke this response by just thinking about the things that we find stressful. Contemplating how we’re going to tackle an ever-growing inbox or an insufferable boss can leave us feeling stressed out before we’ve even left the house. Unfortunately, long-term activation of this system can be bad for our health. It leads to cellular oxidative stress, which in turn predisposes us to disease. This type of stress has been linked to conditions such as diabetes, anxiety, cardiovascular disease and chronic pain.
Building up resiliency is the cornerstone of mind-body medicine. It helps to counteract the negative effects of cellular stress. The key resiliency tools that have been identified are
• Relaxation response
• Social support
• Positive psychology
All of these techniques have been demonstrated to reduce the burden placed on our bodies through oxidative stress. Chronic disease is now the number one burden on health systems across the world. The evidence shows that the interplay between environmental stressors, our minds and our bodies has a causal link to disease. Building resiliency tools could be the key to a cure.
Understanding the effects of stress on our bodies makes for pretty sobering reading. While being told to relax and loosen up is rooted in truth, it can leave us wanting to throttle the giver of said advice. So what are we supposed to do? Are we resigned to a lifetime of snapping at others and daytime drinking à la Don Draper? It turns out that this does not have to be the case. The key lies in building resiliency.
What is Mind-Body Medicine?
Mind-body medicine is rooted in the philosophy of using self-care techniques to reduce stress and build resiliency, which in turn improves our health and helps prevent disease. Mind-body medicine is based on these three main principles: • The mind and body are affected by our environment • Psychosocial stress leads to oxidative stress at a cellular level • This type of cellular stress leaves us vulnerable to disease.