Brain and Body System: One Functioning Unit

Seeing your mind and body as two separate systems can inhibit self-awareness and insight into mental health especially. Our brain body system is more often a symbiotic system than two separate circuits. “The mind and emotions are viewed as influencing the body, as the body, in turn influences the mind and emotions… As one functioning unit” (Selfhub, 2007).

Suki Lor from the national neuroscience institute emphasizes how physical and mental activities are brain boosters. Dancing, learning, hand-brain connection, consistency, and outdoor time can positively impact brain functioning. These are great examples of ways to connect brain and body. Especially for someone who hasn’t danced before even learning very simple dance steps can be very mentally stimulating, one study on patients with Alzheimer’s disease found that dancing improves overall well-being. Playing sudoku or learning a new language is a good way to keep your brain learning and keeping it busy but as we do something repeatedly the positive effect on the brain can wear off. Practicing habitual learning with multiple interests is great for keeping our brain active. Hand brain connection is specifically impactful because of the way that the thumb impacts the primary motor cortex in a disproportionately large way to the rest of the body. The primary motor cortex works with signals that control motor function (such as arms or legs). Using your hands can stimulate the brain and improve neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change. It is a physical movement that literally works on our mind body connection. Regularity of physical movement is also important for maintaining healthy brain body connection, even something as simple as going on a walk. In the outdoors we get much more stimuli than when we are at home most of the time. It can be detrimental to physical and mental health especially when talking about preserving healthy brain cell function to stay indoors too often. This type of thinking when it comes to physical movement and brain function can be helpful in increasing self-awareness.

For example, anxiety is a twofold system. Anxiety in your brain may manifest as irrational thoughts, racing thoughts, or negative thoughts about self. Anxiety in your body can manifest as tightness in your chest, sweat, increase in heart rate, or shaking. When we work on connecting our mind body system it can also help us cope with things such as anxiety. We are able to recognize that it’s this twofold system where the body may not always be aware that this increase in heart rate is due to thoughts just in our brain versus a long run outside. When we understand the connection we can help engage in activities that capitalize on that connection.

My body may not know the difference from my heart beating fast when I run a mile or my heart beating fast before I have to speak in public, but my brain does. If I am able to take a walk and match my physical bodily sensations to my external stimuli, such as walking versus sitting in my chair my heart rate matches my activity level better. In doing so, it can help my brain rationalize that my body’s increase in heart rate is justifiable and since we’ve helped regulate my bodily system it can in turn help me feel calm enough to regulate my mental anxiety as well.

In the mind body therapy arena, effective counseling can help the brain change. Not only changes to thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, but also literal changes to how the brain functions. It can help support the brain and creating new neurons and disregarding unused ones. Research has found that effective focusing in the frontal cortex on strength can help overcome focus on the negative. This mind body therapy parallels with cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive referring to the mind. Behavioral referring to the physical or body. When we understand how thoughts, actions, and emotions impact the brain and body it can help train the brain or emotional and physical well-being. It is found especially effective in treatment for depression and anxiety. If our brain constantly chooses the thought “I’m stupid” and there is a habit to that our brain has physically created a circuit where we choose the thought “I’m stupid”. If a counselor and client can work together to reframe or replace this thought, they’re able to create a new connection in the brain. Basically able to create new neurons like the thought “I’m human and I make mistakes” and disregard unused ones like “I’m stupid”. This creates a trickle down effect where behaviorally one may feel more confident because of the increase in their own capability.

Just because your brain has functioned one way habitually does not mean that it is destined to be that way forever. Neuroplasticity is proof of that. If you want to learn more about how to increase your self-awareness and connect your brain and body please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced licensed mental health counselors.






Arielle Teets