The Mind/Body Connection, Part I
Have you ever heard the term, “You are what you think”? It may sound silly to most, but what if I told you that this is not a myth, and there is scientific evidence that proves this to be true. The actual medical term that is used to describe the study of the Mind/Body connection is Psychoneuroimmunology, again Psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI)!
Try saying that five times in a row, it’s a bit of a tongue twister! In short, PNI is the scientific study of the interaction between the psychological processes, the nervous, and immune systems of the human body.
The thought that emotions and stress can affect our overall health has been traced back to early ancient civilizations, but presently, the study of PNI is much more complicated, and has gone from being a simple myth, to the complex science involving researchers, immunologists, physiologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and neurobiologists, whom all work closely to identify the different connections and relationships between the mind, brain, nervous system, and immune system. So, as confusing as all this sounds, I’d like to explain this further because I truly believe that every person should be aware of the powerful impact of their daily thoughts on their overall health and wellbeing.
What is psychoneuroimmunology? (PNI)
- It’s basically the study of science behind the interaction of the psychological processes, the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune systems of our human body.
Why is it important?
- It is important because we now know that behavioral and psychological processes and events actually influence our endocrine and immune system, which impacts our overall health.
- The endocrine system is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth/ development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, amongst other very important functions in our body.
- Our host defense system that protect us from disease.
Nervous System Role
- Scientific research shows that your emotions stimulate very specific activities in your nervous system. This means that our nervous system is intelligent enough to distinguish between positive and negative emotions. It can even identify differences between different types of negative emotions, for example, fear, anxiety, disgust, or anger to name a few.
- Example: when you are experiencing intense emotions like fear, frustration, anxiety, or anger your heart rhythms would appear spiked and jagged on an EKG because there is a neuronal connection between your heart and brain, so your intense emotions greatly affect your ability to think clearly.
- However, the opposite is also true for when you experience positive emotions, like when you feel loved and appreciated. You generate internal feelings of emotional well-being, and your heart rhythms become synchronized and harmonious, and your ability to think clearly is enhanced.
In Part II of this series, I’ll discuss the connection between all of these physical systems and your emotions. You might be surprised to learn about how negative emotions can even have a significant impact on your stomach! I’ll also recommend tools for staying positive and mindful. Stay tuned!
Dr. Herendira Valdez, PMHNP-BC
Valle del Sol
I am a Doctor of Nursing Practice/ Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a strong advocate of “whole-person/holistic” health, encouraging patients to explore, physical, mental, and social factors that may be contributing to the physical symptoms of their illness. I am fluent in English/Spanish, which allows me to connect with patients from various cultural backgrounds.