Mind your body for less stress

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    That the mind has a powerful influence on your health is widely known and accepted. This influence can be positive when you uphold a positive mindset and are compassionate. Meditation and mindfulness are examples of practices that are based on this interaction between mind and body.

    The mind can also have a negative effect on your health. For example, excessive worrying, anger and hatred can lead to cardiovascular problems and chronic stress, due to increased levels of adrenalin and cortisol.

    Having said that, have you ever heard of ‘matter over mind’? The fact is that it is far more influential than you think.

    Mind over matter is when the neocortex, the outermost part of your brain that is responsible for consciousness and logical thinking influences the deeper-lying structures of your brain, the limbic system (emotions and memory) and the reptilian brain (instinct).

    Matter over mind is when instinct and emotions influence your behaviour and way of thinking.

    A few examples: when you have a fever, how do you feel, what behavioural changes take place and how well can you concentrate in that moment? How well can you reduce fear by a rational command?

    Chronic stress on the other hand is associated with memory loss, reduced solution-based thinking and reduced creativity. In times of stress you also become short-tempered and reactive instead of thinking rationally. Stress also leads to structural changes in your brain due to the interaction of the hormone cortisol. Two areas of your brain shrink: the hippocampus, which is related to memory; and the prefrontal cortex, the region dealing with cognitive behaviour, personality, decision making and social behaviour. On the other hand, the amygdalae, which are related to emotional reactions, fear conditioning and anxiety, enlarge. When the brain structure alters, it changes its functioning and with it your thoughts, behaviour and personality.

    The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the interface between body and mind. The ANS has two antagonistic components. The first is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), also referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ or survival response. The second is the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which is all about relaxation, recuperation and regeneration. The two parts can be compared to the gas pedal (SNS) and the brake (PSNS) of a car.

    With hectic schedules and never-ending to-do lists and where doing nothing is not acceptable, the gas pedal is constantly floored, resulting in an overactive SNS, which in turn leads to physical, psychological and social health problems.

    You don’t have direct access to the ANS with your conscious mind and can’t shift the balance from SNS to PSNS by simple thinking or willing it.

    However, conscious, focused breathing exercises in combination with a positive feeling do work. When practiced on a regular basis specific breathing exercises can lead to a balance in the ANS, which in turn regulates heart rate, blood pressure and hormone levels or in other words the ‘inner coherence’. This leads to improved memory, clarity of vision, creativity, a calm and positive outlook, resilience and many more health benefits for the body and mind.

    The only variable is taking the time to practice and that is solely up to you.

    Exercise

    1. Take time out.

    2. Breathe in for +/- five seconds and breathe out for five seconds.

    3. When you’re comfortable with step 2, induce a positive feeling (for example the feeling you have when you enjoy a moment in the sun) and you let it spread through your body when exhaling.

    4. Repeat for three minutes, three times a day.

    For more health and wellness tips, tune in to the feature Health Matters on www.radiox.eu or visit www.tommeyers.be