top of page

The Mind-Body Connection: What it Means and How to Grow It

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

The connection between our mental, emotional, and physical health is inextricably linked.

An image of hands holding a paper head with a brain which could represent the support a therapist in Smyrna, GA can offer. Learn more about stress relief in Smyrna, GA and the benefits of therapy in Smyrna, GA today.

The mind-body connection describes the influence that both the mind and its thoughts and the body and its experiences have over the other and our overall emotional state. Our biology impacts our mood. How our body feels impacts emotions. If we can speak directly to the body and improve our ability to recognize its sensations and experiences, we can better access our emotional self.

Emotions are physical.

Every single emotion you feel has a locus (location) in the body. Many therapists coming from the Freudian foundation of psychology have been taught that the mind is the origin point of emotions. The most common practice of therapy, CBT, centers on the belief that thoughts create emotions and the emotions contribute to behavior all the while circling around the core beliefs you have of yourself. While still a helpful practice, what’s been researched most recently is the body’s central role in emotional experiencing and even trauma.

One 2013 study found and studied where people experience different emotions in the body.

This research constituted the first “map” that illustrated the links between our feelings and how our body feels/contributes. In the study, a team of Finnish researchers induced different emotions in 701 participants and then asked them to color in a body map of where they felt increasing or decreasing activity (Nummenmaa, Glerean, Hari, & Hietanen, 2014). Participants in the study were from both Western European countries (Finland and Sweden) and well as East Asian countries (Taiwan). Despite the cultural differences, the researchers found remarkable similarities in how participants responded.

The researchers explain their findings this way: “Most basic emotions were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate. Similarly, sensations in the head area were shared across all emotions, reflecting probably both physiological changes in the facial area […] as well as the felt changes in the contents of mind triggered by the emotional events.” We’ve all felt ourselves hold our breath in fear or feel our chest tighten in a rush of fear, but this study went beyond the personal symptoms we all feel and discovered a pattern across varying groups of humans. The researchers marked their findings by color and body mapping with yellow signifying the highest level of activity, black being neutral, and blue indicating low or very low activity.

Emotions and Activity

Happiness and love similarly activate the whole body, allowing for more presence and better interaction with the outside world. Anger is the negative emotion with the strongest body activation, particularly in the hands, chest, and head. The angry body prepares itself for a fight of some kind and focuses its attention on the parts of the body needed to move forward in the conflict. Fear holds a similar pattern, but less intense. Fear activates, but slower than anger to try to understand if the body will need to go into fight or flight quickly.

A person covers their face to hide an upset expression. Learn how a therapist in Smyrna, GA can offer support with therapy in Smyrna, GA today and help you overcome stress symptoms.

In this particular study, shame stood out as it was extremely noticeable in the way it deactivates sensation/energy to the outer extremities. The researchers theorized that because shame is self-focused and highly judgmental, the body pulls its resources internally as a survival response. Anyone that’s experienced anxiety can attest to the physical sensations that accompany it: sweaty palms, tight chest, rapid breathing, inability to concentrate, etc. Often, we feel guilty for succumbing to the anxiety, but our body is actively responding to the stress stimuli and can be made worse by thoughts or beliefs we hold about ourselves- aka the mind-body connection.

Anxiety is a form of long-term, low-grade stress. It activates the chest intensely and can lead to a sense of doom or dread, as experienced by panic attacks. People who experience panic attacks frequently report tightness and pain in the chest, and an inability to think beyond the pressing fear of the moment. These feelings might correspond to the strain the heart and lungs feel as they struggle to deliver oxygen to a body under conditions of extended fear. Depression has the most deactivating energy across the board for the body. When we’re experiencing depression, it’s common to feel detached from ourselves and others in the outside world. It’s also difficult for us to find a sense of energy or activation.

All of these emotional states have a corresponding body sensation that many of us try to think ourselves out of.

Many of us cognitively know we’re sad or fearful and try to rationally talk ourselves out of these body states. Often, we end up frustrated because we end up feeling the same even though our brain knows better. This is because we haven’t addressed the body portion of the mind-body connection. Oftentimes, even as mental health practitioners, we fail to recognize the body’s important part to play in the healing process.

I’m going to share with you a few body-based techniques to help you better connect to your physical self with the purpose of better integrating it into your emotional and mental processing.

One of the most popular and effective skills to cultivate for the mind-body connection is mindfulness. Mindfulness is characterized by non-judgmental moment-by-moment awareness of your perceptible mental states and processes which includes immediate awareness of sensations, perceptions, thoughts, and imagery. One effective way to practice mindfulness is to do what’s called an internal tour. Start by breathing in and out steadily and closing your eyes if helpful. Imagine your body as a museum and you as a spectator walking through. You’re focusing on simply noticing bodily aches, pains, discomfort, sensations, etc. as if they were a piece of art on the wall. You’re not trying to change them or figure out why they’re there, just notice what they feel like. You’ll do the same with any thoughts or emotions that arise as you take this internal tour. Note if you feel any sadness, shame, fear, worry, or joy. Again, you’re not trying to change them, just note them. Practicing this internal tour with some regularity can help you take the space needed to note what your body is feeling when you’re experiencing emotional currents.

Another great method to aid the mind-body connection is meditation, paying particular attention to your inhale and exhale. Focusing on your breath brings attention to it and helps to slow it down, which can overall reduce stress and tension in the body. This sends feedback to your mind that anxiety can lessen. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is another example of relaxation therapy that is known to build body intelligence. PMR teaches us to systematically tense and then release muscles, working on one muscle group at a time. This process results in reduced physical stress by increasing our focus on the body.

There are many other methods to increase the mind-body connection including yoga and martial arts as well as biofeedback.

Build your mind-body connection with a therapist in Smyrna, GA to help you stay more present, communicate your emotions more clearly, and move stress through and out of the body.

Our mind and body are two of our greatest tools to support our physical and mental health when we encourage their communication and allow ourselves the space to hear their conversations. You can contact our team of caring therapists for support in cultivating a healthier mind-body connection. You can start your therapy journey with Remain Connected Counseling by following these steps:

  1. Reach out to talk to an Atlanta therapist.

  2. Have your first appointment at Remain Connected

  3. Start feeling more balanced on a physical, mental, and emotional level!

Other Services Offered at Remain Connected Counseling

We understand that there are many issues that may keep you from feeling your best. This is why we are happy to offer a variety of services including teen therapy, trauma therapy, PTSD treatment, anxiety treatment, and EMDR therapy. We also offer Pastoral counseling, life transitions therapy, depression counseling, and more all under a Christian counseling lens. With online therapy, these services are available to anyone in Georgia. Learn more about our team of dedicated therapists and contact us for more information.

49 views0 comments


bottom of page