Most of us don’t pay much attention to the way our thoughts impact us on a daily basis. We go about our day and let our minds run, not even noticing what our mind is actually doing. Though, for many of us, the way our brain functions impacts how our body feels in a profound way.
Medicine has evolved in such a way that we are constantly looking for an answer to our health problems outside of ourselves. If you can’t sleep, take a sleeping pill. If you have a headache, take pain medication. But many people would benefit from letting go of the idea of a doctor “fixing” their problem with medication. And in fact, understanding how our mind, thoughts and emotions impact things like pain, chronic health issues and sleep could go a long a way.
Trauma (both big and small) can cause the brain to disorganize neural circuits. When the brain becomes disorganized in this way, our sympathetic nervous system is activated much more of the time than it should be, meaning that we are in “fight or flight” mode when we shouldn’t be. When our brains are working so hard to keep us safe and over-firing, the body can begin to show physical symptoms. Some of the most common physical manifestations that arise are: anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, digestive problems, chronic pain and headaches. This type of reaction in our brain has also been linked to conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. There are a number of people who have recovered from conditions like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia using neuroplasticity-based approaches, which focus on re-training our brain to behave in a more normal way. Just as our brains can get into the sympathetic state, they can also get out of it. Part of why so many people continue to struggle with symptoms is because they expect that “quick fix” approach and hope that going to the doctor and getting a prescription will solve our problem.
Techniques like CBT, EMDR and neurofeedback can help to start this process of neural re-training. Also, working on re-wiring negative thoughts in your own life can be very helpful. The more we repeat a positive pattern, the more our brains will recognize this and it will create new neural pathways. Catching the negative thought loops and repetition are key. Practicing regular meditation can also be a very effective strategy for brain function. Therapists who are familiar with these strategies can be a great resource as well.