Friday Five – 5 Ways to Improve the Mind-Body Connection Over the Holidays
This week’s Friday Five looks at ways to improve the mind-body connection over the holidays. The Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP) is a not-for-profit organization that informs and educates the general public about the value of chiropractic care and its role in drug-free pain management.
December is a month of mixed emotions: joy and celebration for the holidays combined with feelings of stress and depression. Did you know that your mental health suffers even more if you are in pain?
The link, scientists are uncovering, is our nervous system. Our nervous system continually adapts to our changing environment, which is part of the reason a new job, moving to a different city or starting a romantic relationship may make us stressed and excited in the beginning, but eventually become routine and do not elicit the same feelings as before. Scientists call this process “neuroplasticity,” the ability of the brain to re-wire itself.
Neuroplasticity can turn against us by making it easier to feel symptoms of pain and depression if we do not find ways to manage them. In a recent episode of the Adjusted Reality Podcast, Dr. Heidi Haavik, author of The Reality Check: A Quest to Understand What Happens in the Brain as It Relates to the Spine, explains that there are simple ways to train the brain out of pain through movement, gut health, meditation, healthy sleep habits and spinal movement. These activities have helped millions of people manage chronic pain.
And how about the other side of the coin? Below are five actionable ways to improve your mental and emotional health from the “happiness expert” Laurie Santos, PhD, a Yale University professor of psychology.
Studies show that happy people tend to be around other people more often than spending time alone. Obviously, these social connections include the family and friends we see and talk with often, but Dr. Santos also recommends to her students to reconnect with people they have not spoken with in a while or to talk with someone new. Even just a brief encounter with a stranger can help us feel more positive.
Volunteering time or donating to charity yields greater happiness than time spent doing something for ourselves. Performing random acts of kindness for someone else, such as buying a stranger’s coffee or meal, are associated with surprisingly higher levels of happiness than a massage or special dessert for ourselves.
Each day write down things you are grateful for and why they generate happiness. We can express gratitude for the big things in our life, like our family; or small things, such as roses blooming in our garden, but simply taking a moment each day to record these things helps you focus on the positive side of life.
A Duke University Medical Center study concluded that short-term relief from the symptoms of serious depression might be achieved with exercise just as effectively as with pharmacological therapy. Only 8% of patients in the exercise group saw a relapse in their depression, compared to 38% in the drug-only group. According to Dr. Sherry McAllister, president of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP), exercise and stretching can help to maintain balance during the holidays, allowing for greater flexibility and strength to carry out holiday cheer and preparation. She also recommends seeking time out for yourself with a doctor of chiropractic and massage therapist for assistance with movement and relaxation.
We are happiest when we are present and thinking about what we are doing at the time. On the other hand, enjoyment is diminished when we allow our thoughts to stray. Dr. Santos advises meditating to practice awareness. Start by sitting quietly and concentrating on each breath for just five minutes each day. If your thoughts stray, work to bring them back to the present. It will get simpler over time to maintain the present and return your attention to your breathing. That is neuroplasticity in action; your brain is rewiring itself to make mindfulness and presence your default mode rather than being preoccupied with other things.
This holiday season, take responsibility for your physical and emotional health. Throughout the holidays and into the new year, it’s critical to remember to treat yourself and others around you with kindness.
About the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress
A not-for-profit organization with nearly 32,000 members, the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP) informs and educates the general public about the value of chiropractic care delivered by doctors of chiropractic (DCs) and its role in drug-free pain management. Visit www.f4cp.org/findadoc; call 866-901-F4CP (3427).