Updated: Jul 10, 2021
Imagine holding a lemon on the palm of your hand. Contemplate the glossy and yet graininess texture of it for a moment. You take the lemon towards your nose and you can sense its strong, citrusy smell. You proceed by taking a knife and cutting a wedge, and you feel some of the juice on your fingers. Then, you put the wedge on your lips and taste the fresh sourness and slight sweetness of it. When you take a soft bite of the lemon, some of the juice runs over the corners of your mouth...
If you're anything like me, just reading the visualization of cutting and tasting lemon makes you salivate. This is the mind-body connection at work.
According to the University of Michigan, the mind-body connection is evident in studies that show that constant worries lead to high blood pressure and physical pain leads to mental health challenges like anxiety and depression.
There are two processes in psychology that help us to conceptualize how we make sense of the variety of stimuli life presents to us: top-down processing and bottom-up processing.
Holistic Psychologist Nicole LePera, PhD, explains in her book How to Do the Work that when we use the mind to heal the body we're engaging in top-down processing while using the body to heal the mind would be bottom-up processing.
The following are 4 practical ways to put the mind-body connection to work based on what we know from top-down and bottom-up processing.
1) The 5-Senses Grounding Technique
As a crisis counselor, I sometimes talk with clients that have tried deep breathing to control their anxiety attacks but it didn't work for them when in emotional distress. In those cases I like to recommend the 5-senses grounding technique.
The basics of this technique are to describe in as much detail as you can: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
This technique helps because we disconnect from the pressure we feel in our bodies to exercise our mind into a state of more calm. Keeping track of the things in our environment and describing them in detail is part of the mental trick to bring ease to the body by shifting our attention.
2) Category Lists
Another mental trick we can do to manipulate our bodily response to stress is to make lists. Specifically, a list for all the things we can name in categories like: countries, fruits, celebrities, books and so on.
Therapist Aid recommends to spend a few minutes on each category to come up with as many items as you can. Remember that you're not competing with anyone while you do this.
The goal is to use the power of the mind to send a message to the body saying that we're not under threat for the time being. We're simply shifting our attention to something more constructive.
3) Paced Breathing
I came across the positive affirmation of "My thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky. My breath is my anchor" while doing a guided meditation recently and it stuck with me. Paced breathing, when practiced regularly, gives us a chance to regulate the thoughts we let in.
The Mayo Clinic affirms that there's evidence showing how paced breathing, as a relaxing mind-body approach, can decrease anxiety and things like the severity of menopausal symptoms.
The goal would be to take about 5 t0 7 breaths per minute instead of the regular 12 to 14 breaths we take per minute. To practice paced breathing, you can inhale for a count of 7 while focusing on using your belly, hold the breath for a count of 3, and exhale for a count of 11.
4) The Cold Water Method
There are times when we need to press a reset button. When your thoughts are racing and the stress is high, consider using the cold water method.
In my training for service providers through Now Matters Now, I came across the evidence showing how the cold water method can help reduce intense thoughts (like suicidal ideation). It's a way to safely stimulate the nervous system but it's not for everyone, so it might take trial and error to know if it works for you.
All you need to do is find a way to put your whole face in icy cold water for 30 seconds, you can take a break for as long as you need and then repeat the process. Finding a bucket and filling it up with icy cold water or filling up your bathroom sink with icy cold water works.
Our thoughts can affect how we feel and create our reality, and how we feel affects how we think. The mind-body connection is ever evident.
We all know that our minds and bodies are intertwined, but we don't always find ways to put this knowledge into practice. We can heal the body with the mind by using the 5-senses grounding technique or making category lists. We can heal the mind by using the body through paced breathing and the cold water method.
I hope you found these mind-body strategies insightful and helpful. Which one are you most likely to try out?
Let me know what you think in the comments or connect with @pursuitofeureka on Facebook and Instagram.
Wishing you the best in your discovery journey,