Couch Conversations: The Mind-Body Connection
What we eat, how we sleep, whether or not we exercise, and practice self-care has a lot to do with our mood. Keep in mind that there are always individual differences in how our bodies might react to stressful situations and respond to them. That is why it is good practice to speak with your physician first before you choose to implement any changes in your daily practice to ensure it is properly suited for your body.
Our Couch Conversations therapists work with people who may be impacted by the foods they eat, the lack of exercise, and unhealthy sleep patterns. In therapy, our therapists provide education about these external factors and assist our clients to track their behaviors to learn more about how these variables may be impacting their mental health. The following contains general information about the different categories that could have an impact on mental health symptoms.
*Note that this article does not give any medical advice about the your body and health. This article is for informational purposes only on understanding the mind-body connection and its impact on mood.
Food Intake on Mood:
We are the experts for our own bodies and it is important that we keep track of what works and what does not work for our bodies. Luckily, there are plenty of resources such as phone applications that can help us monitor food intake and exercise. What is important to keep in mind is what we put into our bodies could have a significant impact on our mood.
There has recently been an increase in the amount of information out there regarding what we should and should not be eating. It could be confusing to sort through and try to understand how these different foods may be having an impact on us. For instance, is eating too much processed food, perhaps takeout food, or even caffeine causing issues with your health? If it is impacting your physical health, it is likely also impacting your mental health as well.
Foods that weigh us down make us feel tired, create difficulty in allowing us to concentrate and this, in turn, affects on our mood (i.e., low mood, feeling depressed or anxious). Consider what you eat and try to track how different foods might be impacting your mood, your emotional experiences, and your overall mental wellbeing.
Quality and Quantity of Sleep:
How many of us are actually getting the right amount of sleep? There is data that suggests 70% of Americans get insufficient sleep (see reference below). Again, there are many individual differences given your age, work/school schedule, and body type when it comes to how many hours of sleep we need per night. In general, lack of sleep could be a warning sign that mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression are interacting with our body.
Try to implement a bedtime routine by turning off all electronic devices 30 minutes before you sleep, engaging in calming activities such as reading a book before bed, not drinking caffeine several hours before going to bed, and trying a mindfulness activity like a brief meditation before going to sleep. The more rested you feel, the more likely you will start experiencing an improvement in your mood.
Physical Movement and Activity:
There is a lot of data and research on how physical movement could help improve mood. Physical activity does not only have to include intense exercise routines such as high intensity training, cardio or aerobics, but rather could also include more gentle movement like yoga, stretching, light walking, or tai chi.
Consider your comfort level with physical movement as well as any possible physical limitations you may have before implementing a movement routine. It’s best to start by taking small steps and slowly incorporating a movement routine. Try incorporating movement once a week, then build from that each week.
Notice how a few minutes of movement each day could have a positive impact on your thoughts, behaviors and overall mood. The more you have awareness of your body, the more you’ll start to see the positive changes.
Connection with Others:
Not only do we want to be aware of how external forces on our body could impact our mood, but also what’s going on inside our bodies. Hormones play a big role on how our body responds certain situations in our lives. When we go through a stressful situation, for example, our body produces certain hormones. We produce cortisol which is the stress hormone. We also produce oxytocin during times of stress.
Oxytocin makes us feel the need to connect with others. When we go through a stressful situation, our body is actually wanting us to connect with others and get support through social connection. This has a clear biological impact on our brain and bodies, but it also has an impact on our mental health and the perception that we are being supported by others.
After consulting with a physician or health expert, ask yourself if there are any changes or improvements you can make with in your life today which can have a positive impact on your overall mood and wellbeing. You might be surprised how a small change in one area of your life could affect how you feel in the long-run.
There are many external variables that may have an impact on your body and, in turn, your mood. It is important to understand how these variables are playing a role in your life and whether or not they are contributing to your mental health symptoms. Finding ways to track these behaviors and learn about the different patterns of behaviors regarding food intake, quality of sleep, physical movement and the connection you have with others, could give you useful information about these behaviors.
If you are interested in learning more about the mind body connection, feel free to contact our Couch Conversations Psychotherapy and Counseling, Inc. therapists by completing the "Contact Us" form below or giving us a call.
Lipman, Frank. (2018) How to be well: The 6 keys to a happy and healthy life. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York: NY.