Although the ancient Greeks recognized the clear connection between the mind and the body, it's taken a long time for Western medicine to adopt this notion. But science continues to show over and over again that there's a strong link between your physical health and your mental health.
Whether you're feeling down and you don't know why, or you're worried about your financial situation, 'positive thinking' isn't necessarily the solution. Sometimes, the best treatment involves doing something different with your body, not just with your mind.
As a psychotherapist, I'm fortunate to work in a comprehensive health clinic that provides everything from dental care to podiatry. Working in conjunction with physicians to treat the entire person is instrumental in addressing patients' overall health and well-being.
If you're struggling with psychological distress, there are many ways to treat the problem. Here are five simple ways you can use your body to heal your mind:
1. Walk to Reduce Your Depression
Multiple studies show physical activity can be an effective treatment for mental health problems. And it doesn't have to be intense cardio activity to provide benefits.
Studies show 200 minutes of walking per week (which is less than 30 minutes per day) greatly reduces depression and improves quality of life. In fact, some studies show walking can be just as effective as antidepressant medication.
But you don't have to be depressed to experience the mental health benefits of walking. Taking regular walks boost emotional health in people who aren't depressed too.
2. Smile to Decrease Your Physical Pain
Researchers have discovered there's some truth behind the old saying, "Grin and bear it." If you're in pain, smiling can help you feel the pain less intensely. Frowning, on the other hand, can intensify your pain.
Studies show smiling influences your physical state. A smile can decrease your heart rate during a stressful activity, even if you don't feel happy. So the next time you're about to undergo a painful procedure, think about your 'happy place' or a funny joke, and it might not hurt as much.
3. Take Deep Breaths to Improve Your Attention Span
A few minutes of deep breathing can improve your concentration. Counting those breaths can be especially beneficial if you're a heavy media multi-taskers.
Studies show people who multi-task have trouble taking tests or performing activities that require sustained concentration. Taking a few deep breaths can provide an immediate boost in focus, which can improve performance.
4. Do Some Yoga to Reduce Your Stress and Symptoms of PTSD
Almost anyone who enjoys yoga likely knows it can reduce stress. Research shows yoga increases the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid--a neurotransmitter--in the brain. Increased GABA levels may counteract anxiety and other psychiatric conditions.
Studies have also found yoga benefits people with PTSD. When compared to a control group, people treated with trauma-informed yoga classes show a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms.
5. Lift Weights to Combat Anxiety
About 15% of the U.S. population reports frequent anxiety lasting 15 to 30 days a month. Symptoms include nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry and without intervention, anxiety can lead to poor sleep, aches and pains, poor health and physical limitations.
Studies show that weight lifting is a meaningful intervention for anxiety. Perhaps the best news is, you don't have to do high-intensity weight lifting to reap the benefits. Studies show moderate-intensity resistance training is more effective at reducing anxiety than high-intensity resistance training.
Improving Your Mental Strength
Building mental strength isn't just about changing the way you think. Sometimes, a few simple changes to your physical activity can be instrumental in training your brain and healing your mind.