“Mens sana in corpore sano” is a popular phrase often used in sports and educational contexts. Translating the phrase from the Latin, it means: “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. Originally, it appeared in a Roman poem written by Juvenal stating, “a man should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body”. And, although the ancient poet may have been unaware of the tight connection between mind and body regarding health, he certainly understood the importance of needing both for a fulfilling life.
Today, we better understand the powerful connection between body and mind, and we typically use the phrase to promote physical activity because of its proven benefits on mental health. Indeed, the two are interdependent. The state of the body affects the state of the mind and vice versa, creating either a positive or a negative effect.
A Couple of Examples from Practice
I’ll describe here a couple of cases to illustrate the connection.
One of the hallmark signs of schizophrenia is intrusive and sometimes hostile auditory hallucinations. As well, patients who suffer from schizophrenia are commonly diagnosed with hypertension and heart disease. One case study describes a young patient in the inpatient psychiatry unit who was tortured by a voice that repeatedly threatened to harm her. The girl experienced the stress of hearing that voice every day and had no control over it. Not surprisingly, she was also on several antihypertensive medications for that somatic symptom.
In another case, a young man, who was otherwise healthy, was involved in a motor vehicle accident. During the accident, he severed his spine and lost mobility from his neck down. A few months after the accident, his family noticed that he was becoming more withdrawn, sleeping more than he used to, and losing interest in TV shows he used to enjoy. For him, a deep depression began to set in. As he contemplated his new situation, he began to lose faith that his life could ever feel whole again.
Our minds and bodies are undoubtedly connected. As you might imagine, depression is common among patients who lose mobility or after any catastrophic health condition. As health providers we also often see signs of depression in patients who have been recently diagnosed with cancer, a stroke or a heart attack. Of course, severe illnesses are not the only types of disorders that may affect your mood. A person may be suffering from a painful hip and can’t take their dog for a walk. Financial problems can often cause anxiety and an irritable mood, which very often lead to physical manifestations, such as gastrointestinal troubles, headache, and joint pain.
What to Do?
Since any new physical symptom likely has a physical cause, you will probably want to rule out those causes, first. But, if your healthcare provider advises that your tests and exams are normal, you may want to assess your state of mind. We typically use an introspective technique in order to examine our thoughts and emotions, especially as reflected in our behaviors. Here are some tips that can help you assess and protect your mental health:
· If you are feeling down or upset, ask yourself: Why am I having this emotion (anger, anxiety, sadness)?
· Try to express your emotions in order to let people around you know how you are feeling. If family and friends are not helpful, find a professional to help you elicit those feelings.
· If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by a problem, try to change direction mentally and intentionally remember the good things in your life. A diary may help you to put down thoughts and emotions and let go of negative thoughts and feelings.
· Learn how to cope with emotional challenges and build resilience by creating social support around you. By accepting that life is in a constant state of change, you’ll be able to create and maintain a more positive view of yourself.
· Remember the Four Pillars of Health: De-stress, Diet, Movement and Sleep to keep your body and mind stable and healthy. Please check out our website to learn more about the four pillars if you haven’t already. There are some other very useful ideas there as well.
Hopefully, these techniques will help you achieve greater mind-body awareness and balance. We wish you all “mens sana in corpore sano”!
Be well and take good care.
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2019). Mind/body connection: how your emotions affect your health. Retrieved from: https://familydoctor.org/mindbody-connection-how-your-emotions-affect-your-health/