How Does the Mind Create Illness and Dysfunction?
The Mind Body relationship is beautifully and elegantly designed. Thoughts, because they are electrical, may be produced and changed without moving a great deal of mass around; the changes are represented by shifts in electrons and electrical fields, which have little mass and weigh almost nothing. This gives us enormous flexibility and selectivity of thought, and enables us to whip through complex reasoning tasks with lightning speed.
When a series of thoughts cluster to form a concept or image, the cerebral cortex secretes neuropeptides. Neuropeptide molecules are much larger than electrons, have more mass and do not vanish as quickly as electrostatic charges do.
Electrical charges drain off by themselves; neuropeptides must actually be metabolized; that is, once they have served their purpose, our bodies must break them down and excrete them. For example, many people have experienced lasting anger after having a dream of someone, your spouse or a friend, doing something unkind to you. The sequence is outlined below:
Neuroendocrine Changes –>
Cellular Changes –>
Physiological (Physical) Changes –>
Health or Illness
You awaken feeling angry but soon realize that the reason for your anger was a dream and not something that actually happened. In spite of this awareness, you notice it takes a little while before your feelings of anger dissipate. Likewise, after seeing a movie with very graphic, violent images, you find yourself drifting to that imagery again and again over the next few hours or days. Eventually that chemical pattern is metabolized and you stop thinking about those scenes unless something reminds you of the event. (In PTSD, the shock is so great that other parts of the brain fix this image in your mind and it is not metabolized, but stays and distorts perceptions and behaviors.)
Beyond these simple examples there are those situations that occur in each of our lives where we do not have the ability to respond rationally, effectively, and wisely to threatening challenges in our lives. This happens quite commonly in our early years
Parental arguments, abuse by siblings or other kids, social anxiety, and experiences of failure, especially when repeated, cause deep emotional pain, triggering the amygdala (part of the brain), which causes these neural networks to persist. These networks, give rise to persistent dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, that serve, in turn, as part of the basis upon which we base our algorithms of reality:
- Who am I?
- What is the nature of this world I am in?
- What do I perceive to be my relationship to it?
The result is that our brain will produce behaviors (thoughts, imaginations, emotions, words, and actions) that are triggered by perceptions and emotions. These behaviors are carried forward from the past and imposed on the present, without our knowledge – thereby producing a wide range of problems. For example, physical tension in the organs of the body is often the cause of headaches, gastro-intestinal (GI) symptoms, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hypertension – to name a few.
When you are in a stressed condition, your adrenal glands produce excess cortisol. The excess cortisol secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress tends to cause tissue breakdown in many organs of the body, leading to gut disorders, obesity, impaired immune function, fatigue, impaired short term memory, bone loss, brain atrophy, irritability, and depressed mood – are a few of the results of this breakdown.
For more about stress and cortisol, see How Does Stress Create Excess Cortisol?
These stereotyped patterns of response are inadequate to the current day challenges. They lead to maladaptive patterns of reaction that may produce temporary symptomatic relief, but because they neglect to bring creative healthy attention to the deeper conflicts that are the true source of the problem – and they worsen – giving rise to physical illness, emotional distress, dysfunctional behaviors including addictions and dependencies, depression, anxiety, low creativity, poor relationships, and failure.
Although not every disease is caused by stress, nearly every disease we study is made worse by stress, especially chronic stress. By far, one of the most important things you can do to heal a current disease or dysfunction is to learn the tools for reducing the stress load in your body – and at the same time you will protect yourself from future stress-induced breakdown.
How Can Guided Imagery Help To Balance Mind And Body?
Properly chosen guided imagery serves the function of opening a door to the deeper, emotional levels of your nervous system. Holding any strong image in your mind signals the deeper structures of your brain to release the chemical signals and nervous responses that are perceived as emotion. This represents an even greater mass of matter and energy being released into the body. Just as conflictual images tend to create stress and tissue breakdown, when positive emotions (joy, confidence, enthusiasm) are evoked through guided imagery, they tend to produce healing, and they serve as powerful motivators.
When you add the activating power of your emotions to the particular image being held in your mind, it tends to bring about the remarkable effect of empowering that image to express itself in physical reality. What you have imagined tends to manifest as reality.
Just as a coach, by giving a stirring talk during half time, can influence his players to run faster and play a better game, your inner image, turbocharged by emotion, is your inner pep talk. Your unconscious mind then turns it into physical reality. “Mind over matter” in your body. Your guided image could lead to a muscular activity, such as winning a fight, playing a great game of softball, running the best race of your life, or dancing beautifully. Or it could lead to superior mental performance, such as writing an A+ essay or solving a vexing problem at work.
Mind And Body Over Matter
Please notice that, although we started with thoughts and images, infinitesimal quantities of neuropeptides, through the use of mental imagery, a relatively enormous mass is being moved—the mass of your entire body.
In an analogous way, your wisely chosen guided imagery may influence the functioning of the rest of the organs of your body, including the immune system, glandular system, and your nervous system, including your brain. This is the essence of Dr. Miller’s Guided Imagery recordings, which provide us with an ideal way to alter the mind body relationship and its responses.