Knowledge of the mind-body connection may cause a sense of uneasiness when one feels hopelessly inundated with negative news and stuck in a fearful thinking pattern. This results in a bombardment of stress hormones that can cause and perpetuate physical and mental suffering.
Many may attempt to push through the distressing emotions and cover them up with a stoic or positive front in order to survive the constant insults; however, the body does keep score.
In my preceding post, I highlighted that it is vital to pay attention to how our environment and exposures impact our overall wellness. Specifically, I explored the concrete example of how unresolved issues in childhood can lead to detrimental, long-term physical and emotional issues.
In this article, I dive deeper into the topic of uncovering the barriers to mental and bodily harmony. Specifically, I discuss:
- How the body keeps score of trauma.
- How to rewire the brain to heal after adverse experiences through the use of integrative medicine.
- The resources we need to deal with recent traumas to nourish more growth versus depreciation.
- Finding a balance between emotional healing and positivity.
To use positivity to our advantage we must first do some deep work to release and heal old wounds. By removing these blocks, our brain can then be more open to embracing these nurturing messages to function and flourish optimally.
Rewiring the Brain from Trauma
In my previous article, I demonstrated how childhood trauma and constant stress can rewire the brain and lead to mental and physical health symptoms. For example, it has been shown that constant stressors influence the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. If cortisol stays at heightened levels for an extended time, it can perpetuate unwanted brain structural changes and may negatively modulate nervous system responses to stress throughout the lifespan.
In the book, Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk M.D discusses scientific advances that further demonstrate how trauma literally reshapes both the body and brain. As written in the book’s summary, this compromises “sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust.” In other words, trauma can decrease the experience of joy in life and cause one to isolate, act impulsively, and not feel safe with others.
The author explores “innovative treatments” including neurofeedback, meditation, movement through sports, drama, and yoga that cause activation of the brain’s natural ability to recover through neuroplasticity.
What is neuroplasticity?
According to Positive Psychology:
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new connections and pathways and change how its circuits are wired; neurogenesis is the even more amazing ability of the brain to grow new neurons (Bergland, 2017)…
In the 1960s, it was discovered that neurons could “reorganize” after a traumatic event. Further research found that stress can change not only the functions but also the structure of the brain itself (Fuchs & Flügge, 2014)…
the “father of neuroscience,” Santiago Ramón y Cajal, talked about “neuronal plasticity” in the early 1900s (Fuchs & Flügge, 2014). He recognized that, in contrast to current belief at that time, brains could indeed change after a person had reached adulthood.
When I was studying to become certified in functional medicine, I learned various factors that could influence neuroplasticity for the better. These included:
- Enriched environments, such as virtual reality
- Nourishing foods and phytonutrients
- Music and engaging in the senses (including olfaction and using essential oils!)
- Movement and exercise
- Modulating inflammation
- Enhancing stress resiliency
- Lifestyle factors (especially sleep)
- Love and connection, which is perhaps most vital. Love, and the lack of it, can influence brain biochemistry and impact health outcomes.
I often implement a combination of these lifestyle and integrative medicine tools to assist with changing my clients’ brain pathways and support holistic healing of the mind-body connection. This is done alongside conventional therapy and standard of care. I also aim to correct biochemical, psychological, and/or physical imbalances in cognitive functioning as we are retraining their brain patterning.
For example, sex hormones modulate neural plasticity and need to be addressed, as they also impact biology and mental health. One of my favorite tools for balancing all aspects of the mind-body are, you guessed it, essential oils. This is because they start at the level of stress perception as they help with rewiring neural pathways.
Once my clients get to the point where they can believe in hope and positivity, using affirmations can further reinforce these newly formed nervous system and brain processes.
The Unappreciated Resources for Posttraumatic Growth in Current Trauma
We have discussed how past trauma can block our emotional, mental, and physical healing. Recent trauma can also negatively affect our brain pathways and overall wellness. Acknowledging this and being proactive to the current state of the world’s affairs could help to prevent a further degradation of society’s mental health.
Previously, I explained how current trauma can lead to posttraumatic depreciation or posttraumatic growth (PTG), depending on the resources available. These factors of influence include:
- The ability to relate to others
- Seeking out new possibilities
- Personal strength
- Spiritual changes
- An appreciation for life
In PTG, the traumatic experience is used as catalyst for finding a new purpose or meaning-making. Several psychological factors impact if PTG will occur. These include:
- Rumination (intentional positive thinking!)
- Social support
- Social interaction
- Positive emotions
- Coping strategies
The fact that spirituality and connection are so imperative for transforming trauma into a growth mindset explains why our world is struggling right now. Relationships truly have the capacity to hurt or heal us, and many have felt isolated and divided for far too long.
The irony is, to cope with our common tragedies, we need more social interaction, connection, and ability to relate to others, not less. This makes me feel like we must do what we can to come together as a society and aim to see our commonality vs. differences. This is imperative for individual and global health outcomes.
The current outreach on the federal level offers a start with addressing socioeconomic barriers and access to mental health care, but we must also incorporate more holistic resources for healing the whole person, not just managing the emotions.
We need to consider all these aspects of PTG from an integrative perspective and use a cohesive strategy that includes both brain health healing and the aspects of wellness that embrace mind, body, spirit, relationships, and other socioeconomic issues.
It is possible to move forward, be productive, and even thrive.
However, we must address past traumas and have access to tools to move through difficult times, using them to fuel growth rather than depreciation.
There is Hope: Feel it to Heal It
If one has depression, trauma, and/or anxiety, feeling positive and reaching out for help are usually the last responses that a brain stuck in a loop will have.
Emotions cannot be cut and pasted and colored over at whim. In fact, those with mental health issues may even be harmed with “positive thinking” because of how their brain is wired and the guilt that ensues from being unable to accomplish it.
Yet, positivity can actually help heal when used correctly.
In a previous blog, I demonstrated that the “power of positive thinking” wasn’t just woo-woo.
Several studies have shown that forgiveness, self-love, positive affirmations, constructively dealing with regret, and releasing our sadness all provide benefits to the physical body in distinct ways. The evidence for beneficial health outcomes related to optimism and gratitude, versus negativity, poor emotional intelligence, and dysfunctional behavior and regulation, is even more robust.
So, what’s the catch?
There’s a balance between processing old emotions, healing from them, then retuning your brain and assisting with rewiring with affirming statements.
Unresolved trauma and beliefs will trump positive affirmations helpful effects every time. Mental health and brain health imbalances will as well.
This is why we must comprehensively address the mind, brain, and mind-body connection in all areas.
We can start by being kind to ourselves, reaching out for support, incorporating lifestyle practices that help our brains rewire from past traumas, and empowering ourselves with resources, purpose, and social support to enhance posttraumatic growth.
Each individual holistically healed will have beneficial ripple effects on our world’s collective mental state.
If you are struggling, it may be time to do the deep work that is needed to truly break free from the relentless mind chatter and make peace with your mind.*
Now is the time to do this for yourself and for the globe.
Feel free to comment on this post and share it widely.
Click here to learn more about my approach to whole-person, mind-body care and stay tuned for an opportunity coming up that can support you in holistic mind-body-heart-soul healing. (Join my newsletter to learn more.)
If you struggle with mental health, please reach out for professional mental health support.
You may also wish to consider implementing holistic resources and partnering with a naturopathic doctor.
For example, I offer mind-body support for general mood issues using a functional medicine and wellness-oriented approach.
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.