Leonard: Is It All In Your Head? Stress, Disease And The Mind-Body Connection

By Laura Leonard
Doctor of Chiropractic
Los Alamos

Getting sick isn’t exactly all in your head but your thoughts about things do play a critical part in how well your body’s physiology handles stress. Psychoneuroimmunology is a field of study that investigates the interactions between thoughts and physiology.

Since the 1960s, research into this field has shown that our thinking patterns directly affect immune, nervous and hormonal systems. Thoughts about life stressors have such a large impact on health that we can’t afford to ignore this interaction as we go through life.

Research on patient’s with various types of cancer tells us that patients with depression and/or a history of multiple stressful life events have lower survival rates. In fact, these risk factors have more impact on survival than a history of alcohol and tobacco use. Perceived social isolation and loneliness are also predictors of cancer survival.

Chronic daily stress also leads to disease especially when we feel like we have no control over our circumstances. Emotions like anger are well known to increase the likelihood of having a heart attack. Mind-body-health interactions are the reason why I teach my patients to take control of their thoughts and personal actions rather than worrying about other people and events they have no influence over.

At the end of the day that is where health starts, with personal empowerment and choosing not to be a victim to the things going on around us. Where the tough work begins is being willing to look at your subconscious thoughts. Negative thinking patterns that are acquired in childhood and filed away until something triggers us.

Our brains are wired to keep these traumas filed away until something in the environment brings it up. PTSD, anxiety and depression are manifestations of these triggers. When our brain gets triggered in the now, our physiology has no idea if this is an imminent threat or if it’s overreacting. Dealing with our active thoughts in an empowering way is only part of the puzzle. Many of our beliefs about ourselves and the world are subconscious and stored away until something triggers those thoughts to come out. Sadly, most of what we store in the subconscious is negative because that is what allowed our ancestors to survive. In the modern world, these stored thoughts are responsible for making us sick.

Awareness of mind-body-health is becoming mainstream thinking and there are many online resources to get you started. Apps like Headspace, UCLA Mindful, iBreathe and Mindset: Daily Motivation all provide simple ways to start shifting your mind and physiology on the daily. If you are ready to dig into your subconscious, my personal preference is paying attention to emotional triggers and journaling about them when they arise. Triggers always have a deeper origin and I believe those roots exist in childhood and past traumas.

If you like apps, ThinkUp is a useful tool to get positive affirmations for healing old patterns once you start peeling back the onion.

Dr. Leonard’s practice focuses on posture and performance using a combination of soft tissue release, adjustments and exercise recommendations. She also coaches patients on nutrition, self-care and body awareness so they can manage themselves in between visits. Los Alamos Chiropractic Center is located in the Mary Deal building on Trinity.


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