While many people may consider physical health to be the foundation of a productive life, if you examine the chemical effects of the mind on the body, it is clear that mental health is the driver of your physical health.
Consider the following:
Thoughts are the mental link to the environment that allows you to assess your situation, second by second, in order to make choices that allow you to survive and thrive. If our thoughts are pleasant, our bodies will secrete chemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine that create a sense of relaxation and well-being.
Conversely, if you feel stressed, then your thoughts will create a chemical environment consisting of adrenaline, cortisol, histamines, cytokines, and other hormones that create a sense of insecurity and dread. You will be motivated to control the situation to alleviate these feelings of anxiety. Since you cannot escape or solve unpleasant thoughts—rational or irrational—then your body will be exposed to higher levels of these chemicals than needed. It is like driving your car 70 mph down the freeway in second or third gear—it will break down much sooner than if you were in fifth gear and cruising.
I am aware that life is not easy. Few people can live their lives on the “cruise” setting. Additionally, avoiding stress becomes its own stress. You cannot run from many of your stressors and certainly not your thoughts. The key is to learn strategies to separate from this chemical reaction, dampen it, and then you can thrive.
Neurophysiologic Disorder (NPD)
There are different terms to describe the physical consequences of sustained levels of stress chemicals in your body, such as Mind Body Syndrome (MBS), Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), Central Sensitization Syndrome (CSS), and Stress Illness Disorder. The term I have chosen is “Neurophysiologic Disorder” (NPD).
Your thoughts are the neurologic input to your nervous system, which creates a physiological response that is similar to a physical stimulus. We are programmed to gravitate towards reward chemicals and avoid the stress ones. Within a pretty wide range, we are able to conduct our lives in a functional and enjoyable manner—except when we can’t.
Every cell in your body is bathed in this chemical bath, so there are multiple different possible physical symptoms. Each organ system responds in its unique way.
Effects of Untreated NPD and Anxiety
There are over 33 possible symptoms that are manifestations of an untreated Neurophysiologic Disorder (NPD). Modern medicine is focused on treating the symptoms instead of addressing the root cause of a fired-up nervous system. Many of these conditions will begin in childhood, such as migraine headaches, insomnia, anxiety, eating disorders, stomach pain, etc.
Additionally, anxiety drives anger. One common cause of anger is the loss of control. When you lose your ability to control your anxiety, your body secretes even more survival hormones in an effort to regain control. Losing control of your pain (mental or physical) creates an indescribable depth of frustration. Dr. John Sarno described it as “rage.” (1)
When you are angry, it is only about you. This survival response causes you to lose awareness of the needs of those around you. Lack of awareness is the essence of abuse, including self-abuse.
Families of patients in chronic pain often become the targets of this deep anger. When you neglect your health, as well as the health of your family, that anxiety and anger create profound physical effects on your body.
The following list includes 33 symptoms that can be caused by sustained elevations of stress hormones. If you are suffering from chronic pain, you will be surprised to see how many apply to you and your daily experience. I think all of us experience at least three or four of them just dealing with life.
1. Heartburn and acid reflux
2. Abdominal pains
3. Irritable bowel syndrome
4. Tension headaches
5. Migraine headaches
6. Unexplained rashes
7. Anxiety and/or panic attacks
9. Obsessive-compulsive thought patterns
10. Eating disorders
11. Insomnia or trouble sleeping
13. Back pain
14. Neck pain
15. Shoulder pain
16. Repetitive stress injury
17. Carpal tunnel syndrome
18. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)
19. Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
20. Chronic tendonitis
21. Facial pain
22. Numbness or tingling sensations
23. Fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome
25. Chest pain
27. Interstitial cystitis/spastic bladder (irritable bladder syndrome)
28. Pelvic pain
29. Muscle tenderness
30. Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
[This list was compiled by Dr. Howard Schubiner and presented in Chapter 5 of his book, Unlearn Your Pain, 3rd edition. (1)]
Your Unconscious Brain
No one intellectually wants to be sick or unhealthy. Your conscious brain, which is usually referenced to as “good intentions” or “willpower,” has no chance of solving anxiety and anger or any of the physical symptoms you are experiencing.
The solution lies in addressing deeply pre-programmed behavioral patterns. The unconscious brain is much more powerful than the conscious brain. You must utilize strategies that stimulate your brain to rewire. You cannot “fix” yourself, because your attention is still on the problem and not the solution. The key is to work within a framework that allows you to organize your thinking so that you can reconnect with your own body’s healing capacity.
Although your greatest wish is to feel safe, your unconscious brain will resist this process, because its role is to scan the environment for danger in order to ensure safety. So, the actual outcome is some level of baseline anxiety. If you were raised in a chaotic household, more things in the present will seem dangerous, because when you were a child, many situations didn’t feel or weren’t safe. It is important to understand this neurological linkage when trying to heal from any type of trauma—whether physical or emotional.
By optimizing your body’s chemistry utilizing aspects of your conscious thinking to shift your unconscious responses, you will be able to drop your guard and enjoy your life with your family and friends. Your capacity and motivation to care for your health will be much higher. Letting go of the need for control will lower the levels of stress chemicals (anxiety) and allow you to move forward into a fulfilling life, free from the grip of chronic pain and other physical symptoms.
1. Sarno, John. Mind Over Back Pain. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 1982.
2. Schubiner, Howard. Unlearn Your Pain, 3rd edition. Mind Body Publishing. Pleasant Ridge, MI, 2016.