The ancient Greeks recognized the connection between the mind and the body. It's taken a long time for Western medicine to adopt this notion, yet science continues to prove—over and over again—that there's a strong link between our physical health and our mental health.
If you're feeling down and you don't know why, or if you're worried about your financial situation, "positive thinking" might not be the solution. Sometimes, the best treatment involves doing something different with your body, not just your mind.
As a psychotherapist, I'm fortunate to work in a comprehensive health clinic that provides everything from dental care to podiatry. Working with physicians to treat the entire person is instrumental in addressing patients' overall health and well-being.
If you're struggling with psychological distress, there are many ways to treat the problem. Here are five simple ways you can use your body to heal your mind:
1. Walk to reduce depression.
Multiple studies show physical activity can be an effective treatment for mental health problems—and you don't have to do intense cardio to reap the benefits. Studies show that 200 minutes of walking per week (less than 30 minutes per day) greatly reduces depression and improves quality of life. In fact, some studies show walking can be just as effective as taking an antidepressant.
But it's not only people with depression who can experience the mental health benefits of walking. Taking regular walks boosts emotional health for people who aren't depressed as well.
2. Smile to decrease physical pain.
Researchers have discovered there's some truth behind the old saying, "Grin and bear it." If you're in pain, smiling can help you feel the discomfort less intensely. Frowning, on the other hand, can intensify your pain.
Studies show how smiling influences your physical state: A smile can decrease your heart rate during a stressful activity, even if you don't feel happy. So the next time you're about to undergo a painful procedure, think about your "happy place," or a funny joke, and it might not hurt as much.
3. Take deep breaths to improve attention span.
A few minutes of deep breathing can improve your concentration, and counting those breaths can be especially beneficial if you're a heavy multitasker.
Studies show that people who multitask have trouble taking tests and performing activities that require sustained concentration. Taking a few deep breaths can provide an immediate boost in focus, which can improve performance.
4. Do yoga to reduce stress and the symptoms of PTSD.
Almost anyone who enjoys yoga likely already knows that it can reduce stress. Research shows how yoga increases the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—a neurotransmitter—in the brain. And increased GABA levels may counteract anxiety and other psychiatric conditions.
Studies have also found yoga benefits people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When compared to a control group, people treated with trauma-informed yoga classes show a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms.
5. Lift weights to combat anxiety.
About 15 percent of the population reports frequent bouts of anxiety, which can typically last for 15 to 30 days per month with symptoms including nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry. Without intervention, anxiety can lead to poor sleep, aches and pains, poor health, and physical limitations.
Studies show that weightlifting is a meaningful intervention for anxiety. Perhaps the best news is that you don't have to do high-intensity weight lifting to reap the benefits. Studies show that moderate-intensity resistance training is more effective at reducing anxiety than high-intensity resistance training.
Build Mental Muscle
Building mental strength isn't just about changing the way you think. Sometimes, a few simple changes to your physical routine can be instrumental in training your brain and healing your mind.
Want to know how to give up the bad habits that rob you of mental strength? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.
This article first appeared on Inc.