Human Health and the Mind-Body Connection Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1467 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Anatomy

Human Health and the Mind-Body Connection

In some respects, the human mind and body are separate entities, particularly in connection with the types of ailments to which each is vulnerable and the diagnoses and treatment of those ailments. Generally, medical issues affecting the body manifest themselves in symptoms that are observable or otherwise detectable through the five senses. By contrast, ailments affecting the human mind often have no externally identifiable symptoms; they must be diagnosed through some form of psychological therapy that emphasizes communication between the patient and the healthcare professional.

However, contemporary medicine now understands that there is also a definite connection between the mind and the physical body through which each affects and is affected by the other in many ways. Mental pathologies and other types of conditions and experiences that primarily affect the mind, such as emotional (and many other types of) stress, can also result in or make existing physical symptoms much worse. Other types of ailments originating in the mind can be the principal cause of physical symptoms of the body. The opposite is equally true: physical conditions, such as chronic pain (among others) can also affect the state and health of the mind, resulting in anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions.

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During the evolutionary period of human development, the sympathetic nervous system developed various responses that allow the organism to increase its prospect for survival in many dangerous situations (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008). Those responses typically involve changes in the way that the main organs and systems in the body operate for short periods of time to allow all available resources to be directed toward survival or escape from the immediate threat to the organism. Generally, when faced with any threat that causes fear or the need to protect the organism, the sympathetic nervous system provides a means for the perception of danger by the mind to shut down those organs, systems, and physiological processes that are not required to escape from the threat (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008).

For example, the classic fight-or-flight response involves the automatic secretion of various hormones that immediately increase conscious awareness, mental focus, and the ability to react quickly (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008). The senses most important to fighting or escaping become more sensitive and efficient while the physiological processes that are not necessary for that immediate response are suspended. Respiration, blood pressure, and blood flow to the skeletal muscles (especially to the extremities) all increase dramatically. Meanwhile, other long-term processes, such as digestion, cell repair and growth, and immune system responses are shut down, mainly because the blood and blood-borne nutrients (especially oxygen) are all directed to the systems needed to ensure immediate survival from the external threat facing the organism. Once the threat is neutralized or escape is achieved, those physiological processes resume their normal functions and operations (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008; Sarno, 1998).

In the short-term, there are no negative physiological consequences to the body associated with the types of emergency responses of the sympathetic nervous system; however, in the long-term, repeated exposure to emergency situations can result in physical harm to the body in several ways. For example, under chronic conditions of emotional or psychological mental stress, the continual reliance on emergency sympathetic responses can severely compromise the ability of the organism to fight off systemic infection and other diseases by virtue of the decreased function of the immune system responses (Archer, 2005). That is why psychological ailments such as depression and extreme anxiety are often associated with increased susceptibility to the common colds the flu, and to various other diseases. Likewise, wound healing is slower and less efficient because of chronic mental stress because regular increases in stress hormones also lower the white blood cell count, the primary mechanism for countering and overcoming bacterial infection (Archer, 2005).

Another common negative physical health consequences of mental states of stress are reduction in skeletal growth, increases storage of body fat, and reduction in the efficiency and capacity of memory functions (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2008; Sarno, 1998). Because repeated or prolonged mental stress diverts resources from long-term physiological processes not immediately necessary to respond to danger, cell repair and skeletal growth slow down. Cellular repair is an ongoing process that allows the body to replace dead cells with new cells and typically results in all of the body's cells (except those of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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