Stress Tips: Calm Your Mind, Heal Your Body

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WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR HEALTH, there is one factor that is more important than almost any other…

If it is missing from your life, it causes or worsens 95 percent of all illness. It has been associated with dramatic reductions in disease and increased longevity.

And it is more important than cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, or any other risk factor in determining whether you will live a long and healthy life. But it doesn’t come in a pill, and it can’t be found in a hospital or in your doctor’s office.

What is this critical factor that determines so much about how healthy or how sick you are?

Your attitude, your social networks, your community, and your spiritual beliefs.

Put another way, the health of your mind and spirit and your sense of connection to your community has an immense impact on the health of your body. In fact, aside from eating breakfast, the biggest predictor of longevity is psychological resiliency–being able to roll with the punches that life throws at us.

We’ve known about this in medicine for a long time. I was recently browsing through my library and found an old book that I read in college called Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer, written by a friend and leader in the field of mind/body medicine, Kenneth Pelletier. He is a clinical professor of medicine at the medical schools of the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Arizona.

His book was published in 1977. I wish I could say that a lot has changed since that book was published. Sure, we have filled in the gaps and learned more about the mechanisms through which the body affects the mind and the mind affects the body, but the basic truths remain the same.

There is a dramatic and powerful connection between your mind and body, and between your body and your mind. In fact, it really should not be called a connection because it is just ONE bidirectional system.

Unfortunately, few doctors accept or understand this fundamental reality about biology. So, in most doctors’ offices, you aren’t going to learn about the connection between your body and brain or how to use that connection to help you heal.

However, in this blog I am going to give you the tools to do that. I am going to explain how the body and mind are intimately connected and give you 10 tips you can use to calm your mind and heal your body.

Calming your mind is the last of the 7 Keys to UltraWellness; today you are going to learn how you can relax your way to vibrant health and optimal weight.

Americans live on caffeine and Prozac. We use substances to manage our moods. In fact, the four top-selling items in grocery stores are all drugs that we use to manage our mood and energy: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and nicotine.

An Epidemic of Stress-Related Disorders

According to Hans Selye, MD, the man who coined the word “stress” and first mapped out its biological effects, “The modern physician should know as much about emotions and thoughts as about disease symptoms and drugs. This approach would appear to hold more promise of cure than anything medicine has given us to date.”

Selye’s words are as true today as they were on the day he wrote them.

We are seeing an epidemic of stress-related disorders in our society, including depression, anxiety, autism, attention deficit disorder, memory disorders, and dementia, and these disorders are making the pharmaceutical industry highly profitable.

You see, Americans live on caffeine and Prozac. We use substances to manage our moods. In fact, the four top-selling items in grocery stores are all drugs that we use to manage our mood and energy: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and nicotine.

But how do we really deal with the root of this problem? You use the MOST powerful pharmacy in the world — which is right between your ears!

A little later, I will tell you how to use your brain to fix your health problems. First, I want to share a story that illustrates the power the mind has to harm or to heal.

The Power of the Mind-Body Connection

Tom, a long-term patient of mine, came to see me after his wife died. He suddenly developed heart failure. His heart just wouldn’t pump. It was flooded with grief molecules, hormones like adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol.

His case is far from being the only documented case in which grief caused cardiovascular problems. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study about how grief or emotional trauma can cause heart failure–literally a broken heart.

Rather than giving Tom drugs for “heart failure” as I was taught in medical school, I suggested he get healing touch, a form of energy and emotional healing. Sounds a bit out there, huh? Well, he followed my advice and dramatically recovered. Touch, not medication, healed his heart.

I think we can all learn a lesson from Tom and other cases like his.

95 percent of all illness is caused or worsened by stress.

In school, we all learned how to read and write, but we never learned how to use our minds to help us with the most important survival skills of all: staying happy and healthy!

Other cultures differ in their training. Herbert Benson, MD, of Harvard Medical School, has demonstrated the amazing power that trained Tibetan meditators use to control their physiology by slowing their metabolism, changing their heart rates and brain waves, and raising or lowering their body temperature.

He even documented on film an ancient practice called tumo, the generating of internal heat, performed by initiated Tibetan monks. The monks are wrapped in icy cold sheets and must use their internal heat to dry them, possibly by actively burning something called brown fat. As a result, they can sit naked on a snowy mountaintop all night and not freeze, keeping warm with their internal heat.

That’s something most of us don’t have any consciousness of, or control over. Imagine if you could turn on fat burning and lose weight with your mind!

That is how powerful our mind and our beliefs can be.

But in the West we aren’t even taught how to cope with the day-to-day frustrations of life. We live under constant chronic stress and we are not trained to address this stressful psychic load that is the burden of the 21st century.

This is unfortunate, because stress is killing us.

Just consider these facts:

  • 95 percent of all illness is caused or worsened by stress. Low socioeconomic status is associated with poorer health outcomes and higher risk of death from all causes. This is not because of poor health habits, but because of feelings of powerlessness and loss of control. Internalized racism and stress are associated with high amounts of belly fat.
  • Stress hormones damage the hippocampus — the memory center in the brain — causing memory loss and dementia.
  • In a study of people who volunteered to have cold viruses injected into their noses, only people with a high level of perceived stress got colds. Women with metastatic breast cancer survived twice as long if they were part of a support group.
  • Belonging to a group — a religious group, a bowling club, a quilting group — reduces risk of death from all causes and increases longevity, despite health habits.
  • In a study of doctors, those who scored high on hostility questionnaires had a higher risk of heart attacks than those who smoked, were overweight, had high blood pressure, or didn’t exercise.

So, if you don’t think the mind has the power to influence your body, think again.

The good news is that you can change your beliefs and attitudes and their effects on your mind and your body. You may need to learn a few new skills, like stress reduction techniques, but it can be done.

However, our beliefs and attitudes aren’t the only things that matter. Our mind and brain function is also influenced by what happens in our bodies. By addressing the 7 Keys to UltraWellness, “mental” problems can often be cured–without changing our beliefs.

The effects of beliefs and attitudes are important. There can be no question of that. But the effects of imbalances in our core body systems on our mental state and brain function are just as important and are mostly IGNORED by traditional medicine.

The systems in your body that affect mood and brain function include hormones, immune system, gut, detox system, energy system, nutritional status, and other environmental inputs.

For example, I saw a man who was completely stressed out and anxious. He had palpitations and drank four martinis a night just to calm down. He also had severe muscle cramps and eye twitches.

These are obvious signs of magnesium deficiency. But stress, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar all deplete magnesium. He was trapped in a vicious cycle.

What he needed wasn’t Valium or Prozac, but rather to address why he was magnesium-deficient and then fix it through detoxification, treating his yeast overgrowth, cutting out alcohol and caffeine, and supplementing with the relaxation mineral, magnesium, to calm his nervous system.

That, in combination with other tools for calming the mind and the body, will help him reset his nervous system. By using these tools together, he’ll be taking advantage of both the body-mind effect and the mind-body effect, thereby optimizing his treatment.

You can do the same thing. By employing the following techniques, you can leverage the power of your brain and body to calm your mind and bring healing.

10 Tips for Calming Your Mind

Here is what we know about how to influence the mind-body and the body-mind system. Consider these essential survival skills. You cannot thrive without them!

  1. Address the Underlying Causes of Stress — Find the biological causes of problems with the mind by working on the 7 Keys to UltraWellness. Mercury toxicity or a magnesium or vitamin B12 deficiency or a toxic gut chemical or a gluten allergy could be changing your brain. So, by changing your body, you can change your mind!
  2. Relax — Learn how to ACTIVELY relax. To engage the powerful forces of the mind on the body, you must DO something — you can’t just sit there watching television or drinking beer.
  3. Learn New Skills — Try learning new skills such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, biofeedback, and progressive muscle relaxation or take a hot bath, make love, get a massage, watch a sunset, or walk in the woods or on the beach.
  4. Move Your Body — Exercise is a powerful, well-studied way to burn off stress chemicals and heal the mind, so just do it! It has been proven to be better than or equal to Prozac for treating depression.
  5. Optimize Your Nutrition — Clean up your diet from mind-robbing molecules like caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars and eat regularly to avoid the short-term stress of starvation on your body.
  6. Supplement — Take a multivitamin and nutrients to help balance the stress response, such as vitamin C; the B-complex vitamins, including B6 and B5 or pantothenic acid; zinc; and most important, magnesium, the relaxation mineral.
  7. Try Herbs — Use adaptogenic herbs (herbs that help you adapt and balance your response to stress) such as ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, Siberian ginseng, cordyceps, and ashwagandha.
  8. Use Heat Therapy — Take a hot bath or a sauna to help your body deeply relax and turn on the relaxation response.
  9. Change Your Beliefs — Examine your beliefs, attitudes, and responses to common situations and consider reframing your point of view to reduce stress.
  10. Find a Community — Consciously build your network of friends, family, and community. They are your most powerful allies in achieving long-term health.

In the 7 Keys to Ultrawellness, which this post was originally part of, I introduced you to a set of new ideas and concepts that have the power to transform your health personally and to transform health care as a whole. It is no small job in either case, but it is essential to stem the impending tsunami of ill health and economic burden facing us, our children, and our children’s children.

The solution is a fundamental change in our worldview about health — a view that helps us get to the core of illness, learn self-care, take control, and empower ourselves to transform our own health and turn our “sick care” system into a health care system.

Each of us can contribute and make small changes that will have a big effect as we move toward vibrant health and vitality as individuals, and as a society.

Take control of your health today using the techniques I have outlined in this series of blogs, and you will become part of a growing movement that is working toward fundamentally changing the way we understand the body and practice medicine in this country.

Now I’d like to hear from you…

What examples of the mind-body and body-mind effect have you experienced?

What do you do to relax and calm down?

What changes in your health do you notice when you’re relaxed?

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below—but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD

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17 Responses to Stress Tips: Calm Your Mind, Heal Your Body

  1. Geri Gentry March 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    My TSH has been elevated since 2008, T4 and Free T4 are always normal range. In 2008 TSH was 10. Today it is 6.5, however my Dr. did not do the T4, and is trying to tell me I need to go on meds. I disagreed with her, did not have the full picture, what is my T4?? She had no answer for me, my cholesterol is high, triglercerides are normal, HDL is good LDL is bad. No other symptoms of Thyroid problems. I am active daily, lost 33 pound over the past year, am at my ideal weight now, need some advice.

    • Profile photo of HymanStaff
      HymanStaff March 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Hi Geri,

      Thank you for your message and your interest in Dr. Hyman’s work. Your question and constellation of symptoms represents a complex medical condition. Questions regarding conditions like these cannot be answered in a responsible manner via the Internet.

      Wishing You the Best of Health!

      Dr. Hyman Staff

  2. Humaira March 28, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    My mother is always in great stress due to my youngest brother she needs something to make her relax I am going to tell her these tips if it will i will let you know.
    Regards!
    Humaira

  3. ryan April 28, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    Hello Dr. Hyman

    IM Ryan and I believe in natural cures but trying to find out which one works like deep breathing exercises and taking multivitamin with bacopa which is supposed to help with learning and depression so will see how it works will let you know and trying to change diet as well. Thanks

  4. Hugh May 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Your report provides confirmed helpful to me.

    It’s very helpful and you’re simply naturally really experienced in this area. You have got opened up my eyes for you to various views on this specific subject matter along with intriquing, notable and reliable content.

  5. Alice Taylforth May 15, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    thanks very much for posting your page and now i hope you can help me out. See im a young student studying art at banff and buchan college and lately its been hectic trying to get everything finished on time but done well to present for the exibihtion in 3 weeks time. Also with trying to keep on top of chores at home and help out with jobs on family farm aswel as keeping on top of homework and street dance rehearsals. Usualy if i find i get stressed out quit abit but not so much as others will tend to. ill have a hot bath hotter than some would usualy have it to reax both my mind and body, or have herbal teas to release tension on my brain or ill excersise if i feel frustatrated or angry which releases tension in my muscles. However when it comes down to learning breakdance moves for part 2 of my routine. I cant seem to get over my fear of not knowing where im going to land and because of this fear that builds up i never get the moves right even though i know how they are supposed to look. So therefore because of this i dont know how to focus on gaining my balance and use positive visualisation is there a method that i can use to gain more confidence to get them right other than just practise?

  6. Doctor Appointment Online August 3, 2013 at 4:01 am #

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  7. Alice September 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    I was diagnosed with burn-out last winter. The stressors that caused the burn-out had ended so it seemed surprising that that was when my body went into shut down. i think it may have been the mind/body connection whereby my body alerted my mind to its distress when my mind could afford to hear my body. Quite intriguing. I read Dr. Hyman’s book UltraMetabolism and another book Revive. My specialist put me on dessicated adrenals. I have combined the dedssicated adrenals with Coenzyme 10, I-Carnitine, and ALA as well as Rhoziva to support my system. I have been walking all summer every day and find that being out in nature with my dog has been wonderful. I have also been reading Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong. Studying mythology through them is my pause button. Mythology teaches us that we are not alone with the perrenial challenges in life. Mythology provides a sense of transcendence above our earthly cares and allows us to feel part of past generations. In the fall, I plan to volunteer in my community to help young children with learning how to read as my field of expertise is English Literature. Reading is the gateway to the world.

    Essentially, I am re-doing my life. My husband and I had large responsibilities in the war against terrorism so we had unusual, on-going, very real and isolating stressors. Yesterday, I got my husband to walk along the waterfront with me and we ran into two of his former employees who were very surprised to see him as a normal person, with a wife and a dog. I thought that summed up just what a strange life it had been. We have served.

    Just had my latest blood test and everything has improved: thyroid, adrenals, hormones, and random sugar read. I have started to lose weight which has budged for five years. I credit this improvement with everything I have done: walking in nature with my dog, reading mythology, and taking the supplements recommended by Dr. Hyman.

  8. jules October 9, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

    Dr. Hyman – thank you for your commitment and dedication to the public by all of the very helpful information regarding our health. I love the weekly video clips I receive and share them with others. There are so many who suffer needlessly when changes in their diet and lifestyle can make a significant impact. It is very encouraging to know that there are simple things we all can do to help ourselves and each other achieve better health. I asked and received a copy of your book The Blood Sugar Solution for Christmas last year. Great book – Id recommend it to anyone.

    Regarding your topic of stress – what helps me is to spend time quieting my spirit before the day begins and talk with God, bringing all my hopes, concerns, and stresses to Him. I am a believer and follower of Christ. A very helpful Scripture to me on which to meditate comes from the book of Phillipians Chapter 4, verses 4-7. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    Thanks again! Keep up the great work.

    jules

  9. Lori October 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    My brother (age 67 and single all his life) moved in with me recently (widowed 6 months ago. I am 70 yrs old). We both have strong personalities and from the get-go didn’t know how to get along (more on my part….). We were good buddies for all of our lives until he came to live with me. Caused him much stress. When after 1 1/2 months living together, he upped and said he couldn’t do this any more and left. I am in deep depression over this cause I love my brother and tried to talk to him, but to no avail. He doesn’t even answer the phone calls from me. How do I get together with him. I know he will never live with me again, but I need his forgiveness. How do I go about showing him that I care. ( this just happen three days ago. Is it too early to contact him? What should. Do? Thank you very much for listening.

    • Profile photo of Team Hyman
      Team Hyman December 30, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

      Thank you for your interest in Dr Hyman’s work. Unfortunately Dr Hyman cannot provide personal medical advice in this forum. For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to:http://www.bloodsugarsolution.com/nutrition-coaching/ OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.

  10. sean April 29, 2014 at 7:10 am #

    Very good tips are being mentioned over here, I am also stress a lot over work I think these tips will be helpful for relaxing.

  11. Lenora June 26, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    I’m not sure where you are getting your information,
    but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or
    understanding more. Thanks for excellent info I was looking for this info for my mission.

  12. edukacja demokratyczna w zielonej gorze July 21, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware of.
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  13. Evan Brand September 8, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    I’m glad to see adaptogens on this list. Hopefully people will check out the episode that you and I did together Mark, as people mainly just need a mental pat on the back and to know that Everything Will Be OKAY!

    Adaptogens can be intimidating for those that are unfamiliar with herbs, but they have huge benefit in the ability to modulate cortisol. Lately I have been trying out Relora which is a patented complex of two different plants. A lot of good info on pubmed concerning the benefits and outcomes with it.

  14. Sharan September 16, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    Some great tips. Thanks for helping the public in general. Even i have started a blog related to stress (http://stressgo.info/) and your artcles help me in writing my artlcles. Thanks again for all the good tips you mention in your articles.

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