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Health Information Working with the Mind/Body Connection

We often lose sight of how much our mood can affect our health and well-being. Research has revealed that our thoughts and perceptions can influence our heart rate, sugar and fat metabolism, and even the body's immune response.

"It has been recognized for some time now that the mind and body talk to one another," Janice Zeller, PhD, RN, FAAN, a professor in adult health nursing and associate professor in immunology/microbiology. "Research has demonstrated that some people who are stressed or depressed are more susceptible to illness."

Mind you, not all stress is bad. A short-term stress response is necessary to avoid danger. For example, the increased visual acuity that accompanies a stress response helps us to better recognize threatening situations. Also, the increased heart rate and blood pressure sends more oxygenated blood to our muscles, helping us flee from such situations. "However, over the long run ongoing stress can lead to disease or exacerbate already existing disease," says Zeller. "Therefore, we need to learn more about practices to relieve stress and encourage relaxation."

Zeller has been offering mind/body skills programs along with Angela Johnson, Dipl OM, MSTOM, MPH in the community as well as here at Rush for a number of years. The programs on campus are available quarterly through Rush Generations.

"Chemicals released during a stress response can affect all the organs and systems in the body," says Zeller. "We want to teach people the skills that will help them manage their responses to stress."

Some of the skills people learn during the six-week mind/body program at Rush are:

  • Relaxation breathing
  • Mindfulness meditation
    • Gaining a greater awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations on a moment-to-moment basis. "We learn that we do not have to get caught up in our negative thoughts; we can just recognize them and let them go without reacting to them," Zeller says.
  • Autogenic relaxation
    • Progressively relaxing the body, imagining body parts becoming warmer and heavier, using words to promote a sense of heaviness and warmth.
  • Visualization
    • "The body reacts as strongly to images as to actual real-life situations," says Zeller. "Have you ever felt your heart pounding as you relived an argument you had two days earlier? One can replace those negative images with calming images to promote a sense of relaxation."
  • Positive thinking
    • "The majority of thoughts that pass through our minds over the course of a day are negative," says Zeller. "We teach people to recognize that they can replace this negative 'self-talk' with more positive thoughts."

Some persons who participated in the six-week mind/body program report:

  • Lower blood pressure (Some on medication reported physician lowering dosage.)
  • Better sleep (Some reported not needing medication to sleep after learning mind/body techniques.)
  • Better pain management (Relaxation techniques helped reduce and manage pain.)
  • Greater sense of self awareness making it easier to practice better self care

All participants are strongly urged to discuss program participation with their health care provider and work collaboratively to promote a greater sense of well-being.

A sampling of activities from the six-week program is offered on the first Tuesday of every month at noon. This is an opportunity for new people to learn more about the program as well as for "program graduates" to return for booster sessions. Contact Vanessa Fabbre with Rush Generations at (800) 757-0202 for additional information.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For more information about other support groups at Rush visit our Support Groups home page.
  • For more information about complementary and mind/body care to support you during cancer treatment, visit our Cancer Integrative Medicine Program home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (888 352-7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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