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March 22, 2012

By Pacific Quest

The mind-body connection is a simple way of describing how the human body responds to the way a person thinks, acts or feels. In other words there are ways in which our bodies react to the activities of our minds.

When emotional health is compromised (from a stressful event or an accumulation of life stressors or thought stressors) the body can respond in ways such as:

  • headaches
  • constipation
  • sweating
  • weight loss
  • back pain
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • upset stomach
  • weight gain

While the above list is no where near exhaustive, it is critical for young people enrolled in a wilderness therapy program to become acutely aware of the way their minds and bodies are connected. While knowing, for instance, that the death of a friend months back had a physical affect on yourself in the form of lack of sleep or weight loss, knowing something doesn’t change what happened or what will happen the next time a stressor presents itself.

The emotional and mental work undertaken at a wilderness therapy program not only makes the mind-body connection abundantly clear for participants, but offers productive tools for managing future stressors. Understanding that poor mental and emotional health can weaken the immune system is a wonderful motivator for learning how to care for one’s mental health.

School, work or family stress, feelings of anxiety or anger—these and others can manifest physically for people, further degrading their ability to function as a whole person, free of illness. Knowing there is a connection between our minds and our bodies is the first step, next is recognizing patterns of this connection in our own lives.

Young adults in a wilderness therapy program should have the opportunity and time to evaluate their own lives, picking up on the patterns of emotional and physical reactions. This exercise serves them in the future giving an awareness they may not have had previously.

Next, though, is gaining practical ways to care for your mental health. One crucial way in which to gain a firm grasp on emotions is practicing mind-body relaxation techniques. Parceling off a portion of a day for quiet, stillness and solitude is a practice all its own. It can lead to calm breathing, which can lead to deeper mediation work. It is this kind of intentional care that can have lasting positive effects on mental health. What it can provide is a calmer, more grounded mental and emotional response the next time a stressor or feeling floods the physical system.

Grasping and caring for the health of the mind-body connection is a mainstay of therapy programs for young people. Without the health of the mind, the body suffers. Without the health of the body, the mind suffers. When that connection is made between the two, striving for optimal, whole health is possible.

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