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Exploring the Mind-Body Connection: Physical Activity and Addiction

Exploring the Mind-Body Connection: Physical Activity and Addiction

As noted in Frontiers in Neuroscience, your physical body is the home in which your mind lives. The body is the anchor point for who you are and how you move through the world. There is a profound connection between the body and mind, as they work in tandem to make up all the pieces of you. However, trauma can sever or mute that innate mind-body connection. Through trauma, your mind and body are overloaded with sensory responses that constantly say you are not safe. 

When you are overwhelmed by trauma, it decreases your ability to recognize your mind-body connection. Traumatic experiences are deeply frightening experiences that threaten your life and can shatter your sense of safety in the world. Thus, when you lack the necessary adaptive coping tools to process traumatic experiences, mind-body disconnection happens. Looking at trauma-related disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) highlights the dissociative nature of trauma. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include: 

  • Flashbacks
  • Dissociative re-experiencing
  • Hypervigilance
  • Easily startled by people and things
  • Avoidance of people, places, and things that remind you of the trauma for potential triggers
  • Pervasive negative cognitions 
    • Negative thoughts and feelings about yourself and or the world

The symptomology of PTSD leaves you feeling overly distressed by seemingly typical everyday situations, places, and interactions. When you are overwhelmed by trauma, it is not surprising that you may seek out strategies to cope with your distress. However, the distressing nature of traumatic experiences can lead to unhealthy coping strategies like self-medicating with substances. Self-medicating increases your risk for substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health disorders. 

The more you engage in maladaptive coping strategies to avoid thinking and or feeling distress, the more you become disconnected from your mind and body. Without awareness of the mind-body connection, trauma can manifest and get stuck in the body as a bodily response to your distress. Thus, understanding the mind-body connection can become a vital tool for uncovering and processing traumatic experiences for your long-term wellness.

At New Creation Recovery, we recognize the importance of having access to a gym at rehab for your physical and psychological well-being. How you care for yourself physically is an important component of recovery as you build on the mind-body connection. Through our holistic luxury rehab programs, we are committed to addressing your specific needs to heal in mind, body, and spirit. Thus, understanding the mind-body connection can increase your awareness of the value of physical activity to support healing the mind-body connection for lasting recovery.

What Is a Mind-Body Connection?

According to the South Dakota Bureau of Human Resources (SD BHR), the mind-body connection is your body’s response to the way you think, feel, and act. Your body responds to internal and external stimuli to tell you when something good or bad is happening. When you are stressed or anxious, it manifests itself in your body in different ways. Your physical response to distress may be your heart pounding, shortness of breath, sweating, or a headache. 

Moreover, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes that the mind-body connection is tied to your emotional health. When you have good emotional health, you experience less physical and psychological distress. With good emotional health, you are aware of the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behavior to your physical health. On the other hand, poor emotional health is an imbalance in your awareness and understanding of how negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors impact your well-being. 

As Medline Plus points out, when your mind-body connection is disrupted, you become detached from the reality that the mind and body cannot be separated. Therefore, understanding the relationship between the mind-body connection and your emotional health can give you insight into the importance of physical activity for lasting recovery.

The Relationship Between the Mind-Body Connection and Wellness

As Medline Plus notes, the mind-body connection is your mind and body working together to tell the story of you. Every experience and interaction in your life is embedded in your mind and body. Whether you are aware of it or not, your physical response to different situations is a reflection of your life experiences. Thus, when you experience traumatic and or stressful life events, the pain of that distress lives on in your body, even when the mind tries to lock it away. 

Understandably, you want to avoid the psychological pain of trauma as a means of coping with an unimaginable amount of pain. However, avoidance behaviors and other coping strategies like self-medicating with substances are maladaptive because they do not resolve the distress. Rather than resolving your distress, unhealthy coping mechanisms like avoidance only temporarily hide your distress from you. The impact of unhealthy coping strategies on your well-being is like trying to fix a leaky pipe with duct tape. 

Using duct tape will hold the leak in for a little while, but eventually, the tape weakens and busts open because the problem was never truly fixed. Thus, even when your distress is hidden from you, the mind-body connection highlights the manifestation of that psychological distress in your body and your behaviors. Listed below are some of the ways your physical and psychological health are interconnected:

  • Chronic stress
    • High blood pressure
    • Headaches and migraines
    • Increased heart rate
    • Feeling out of breath
    • Muscle tension
    • Fatigue
    • Stomach pain and digestive issues
    • Sleep issues
  • Depression
    • Less energy
    • Changes in appetite
      • Weight gain or weight loss
    • Digestive issues
    • Headaches
    • Diabetes
    • Stroke
    • Heart disease
  • Anxiety disorders
    • Shortness of breath
    • Dizziness 
    • Rapid heart rate
    • Upset stomach
  • Eating disorders
    • Rapid changes in weight
    • Stomach issues
    • Heart failure
    • Osteoporosis
    • Malnutrition
  • SUD
    • Malnutrition
    • Mental health disorders
      • Anxiety
      • Depression
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Stroke
    • Cancer
    • Lung disease
    • Sleep issues
    • HIV/AIDS
  • Mental health risk factors for chronic health issues
    • Challenges with chronic illness increase your risk of developing mental health disorders like depression
      • Diabetes
      • Cancer 
      • Epilepsy
      • Heart disease
      • Alzheimer’s disease
      • Autoimmune diseases
      • Multiple sclerosis
      • Parkinson’s disease
  • Other physical risk factors for mental health disorders
    • Chronic stress and trauma can increase your risk for autoimmune disorders
      • Psoriasis
      • Rheumatic arthritis
      • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
      • Diabetes

The high co-occurrence of physical and mental health conditions highlights the significance of the mind-body connection. Your physical and psychological health are deeply entangled with each other. Facing physical health challenges increases the risk for mental distress and mental health disorders increase your risk for poor physical health outcomes. Therefore, the mind-body connection showcases the value of understanding the impact of physical activity on your mental well-being.

Finding Mental Health Healing With Physical Activity

You have likely heard countless people talk about the benefits of physical activity for your physical health. It is not a secret that physical activity is not purely a means for weight loss, but also improves cardiovascular health among numerous other health issues. Yet, many people are unaware of the benefits of physical activity to support your mental well-being. You may be familiar with the use of physical activities like yoga as a tool for calm and focus. 

However, with awareness of the mind-body connection, you can build the tools you need to fully engage in the wellness benefits of activities like yoga to support mental health recovery. As noted in Cureus, physical activity can have numerous positive effects on your mental health and your ability to cope with distressing experiences. Listed below are some of the ways physical activity can support mental well-being:

  • Improve cognitive functioning
    • Attention
    • Memory
    • Cognition
    • Decision-making
  • Promote positive self-esteem
  • Enhance your mood
  • Decrease stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Manage and reduce depressive symptoms
  • Improve the quality of your life
  • Increase resilience to other mental and emotional challenges

The numerous positive effects physical activity has on your sense of well-being are all important components to healing from mental health disorders. Difficulties with a variety of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are related to chronic stress and low self-esteem. Thus, the mind-body connection of physical activity gives you an active intervention to support things like self-esteem. 

With improved self-esteem, you can more easily recognize and dismantle the negative thinking and behavior patterns that contribute to distress in your life. Moreover, the holistic nature of the mind-body connection allows physical activity to be versatile in its ability to support the healing of different mental health disorders. Listed below are some of the mental health disorders that physical activity can support:

  • Depression
    • Reduces feelings of worry and hopelessness
    • Improves mood
      • Supports improved ability to regulate your emotions
    • Increases confidence as you meet your exercise goals
    • Takes your mind off negative thoughts and feelings
    • Releases growth factor proteins to make new connections
      • Supports building different thinking patterns
  • Anxiety
    • Reduces feelings of worry
    • Improves your sense of well-being
    • Increases self-confidence
    • Decreases anxiety 
    • Diverts you from anxious thoughts
    • Reduces stress
    • Decreases muscle tension
    • Building new brain connections to dismantle unhealthy thinking patterns
  • Schizophrenia
    • Reduces some psychotic symptoms
    • Treats medical comorbidities
      • Obesity
      • Metabolic syndrome
    • Improves self-image
    • Decreases depressive and anxious symptoms
    • Improves global sense of well-being
    • Increases energy
    • Promotes motivation
    • Improves cognition
    • Boosts mood
    • Improves functioning

Looking at the benefits of exercise and physical activity to address mental health symptoms highlights physical activity as a healthy coping tool. However, motivation to engage in physical activity when you are overwhelmed by psychological symptoms can feel impossible to overcome. There are a variety of barriers to seeking physical activity for your psychological well-being. As noted in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, some of the barriers that make exercise difficult include:

  • Lack of time
  • Financial instability
  • No or unreliable transportation
  • Physical discomfort and/or mobility issues
  • Lack of social support
  • Difficulty finding motivation

Further, self-determined motivation is a major factor that influences physical activity performance. There are two forms of motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic) to consider when thinking about supporting the mind-body connection. Intrinsic motivation is self-determination behaviors in which you act on your own free will or for your enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation is controlled behaviors in which you are motivated by external pressure to behave in a certain way. 

Through intrinsic motivation, you are more motivated to pursue and continue exercise when it comes from a personal desire to engage in it. Thus, self-determination through intrinsic motivation is vital to seeking physical activity to support recovery. With support, you can find the motivation you need to heal your mind-body connection for long-term well-being. Furthermore, physical activity as a mind-body intervention can also be utilized to heal unhealthy behaviors like SUD as it often co-occurs with other mental health disorders.

The Benefits of Physical Activity for Addiction Recovery

According to the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, exercise has become an important mind-body connection approach with a positive effect on SUD recovery and relapse prevention. The act of exercise and physical activity can have a positive impact on psychological, behavioral, and neurobiological pathways in addiction. Listed below are some of the ways physical activity supports healing addiction:

  • Psychological
    • Challenges with cravings are a risk factor for relapse
      • Through exercise, you can alleviate cravings
      • Reduces withdrawal symptoms
    • Decreases negative mood
    • Increases positive mood
    • Promotes exercises self-efficacy, which encourages continued exercise
      • Translates to self-efficacy to attain and maintain your sobriety
    • SUD often co-occurs with mental health disorders
      • Decreases negative mood
      • Reduces depressive and anxiety symptoms
      • Decreases other mental health symptoms related to SUD
  • Behavioral
    • Exposure to environmental cues like the places, activities, and times of day, when you use can increase the risk of relapse
    • Psychological responses and anticipated rewards can also trigger and reinforce SUD
    • Exercising gives you something to do in place of drinking or using other substances
    • Through regular exercise, you are encouraged to engage in other positive healthy behaviors
      • Nutritious eating habits
      • Good sleep schedule
      • Enhanced well-being
      • Increased energy
      • Fosters motivation to adopt a healthier lifestyle
  • Neurobiological/psychobiological 
    • Substance use actives the rewards centers in your brain, which increases the desire to use substances
    • Exercise activates similar reward pathways in the brain 
      • Can act as a replacement for using substances
    • Through exercise, you can reduce symptoms of stress-related psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety

Looking at the impact of physical activity on mental health and SUD showcases the need for treatments that support the mind-body connection. With a deeper understanding of the mind-body connection for healing, you can find physical activities that match your life and needs for recovery.

Mind-Body Interventions for Long-Term Recovery

While yoga is an effective and common mind-body intervention, there are a wide variety of modalities to pick from. The variety of mind-body interventions gives you the space to work with your clinician to build an individualized treatment plan for your specific needs. Some examples of physical activities that support the mind-body connection include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Qigong
  • Pilates 
  • Gardening
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Running/jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Traditional exercises
    • Working out on gym equipment
    • Weight lifting
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation and breathing techniques
    • Diaphragmatic breathing technique
    • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

Now, you have more insight into the ways you can incorporate physical activities into your daily life to support your long-term well-being. Through the mind-body connection of physical activities, you can reconnect with every part of yourself. When you are more aware of the relationship between your mind and body, you can heal as a whole person.

Supporting the Mind-Body Connection at New Creation Recovery

At New Creation Recovery, we believe in providing a holistic approach to recovery with balance through physical activity like yoga at rehab. Through a holistic approach to recovery with mind-body interventions, you can find the balance to heal in mind, body, and spirit. Recovery is not only about sobriety from using substances but about a journey to healing every part of yourself for lasting recovery. 

When you address the roots of your challenges and build healthy coping tools to utilize in your everyday life, you can find long-term recovery. Thus, as a Christian rehab center, we know how important it is to have a treatment program personalized to your unique experiences to meet you where you are on your journey. Through our Christian-based recovery programs, you have access to holistic treatment to heal the whole of your parts and lead a fulfilling life.

When you are overwhelmed by distress, you are more likely to engage in unhealthy coping strategies like avoidance and substance misuse to suppress your pain. However, your psychological distress does not go away as substances only temporarily mask your distress. Your distress still manifests itself through physical health issues and maladaptive behaviors. Yet, by engaging in physical activities, you can foster the mind-body connection to reduce negative thoughts and feelings, improve mood, and increase self-esteem. Through physical activity, you can build foundational adaptive coping skills to overcome challenges. At New Creation Recovery, we are committed to providing holistic care with modalities like exercise and yoga to help you heal in mind, body, and spirit. Call us at (877) 868-5730 today.