Article: Anxiety and the Mind-Body Connection

"Anxiety is all in your head." False.

In recent years, scientists and doctors have begun to see glimpses of how mental health can influence our physical health and vice versa. Those mind-body connections continue to be studied and understood better each year. A recent scientific study out of the University of Pittsburgh has identified the actual neural pathways that connect the cerebrum, the part of the brain that is responsible for thinking and sensing (among other things), to the adrenal medulla, which is responsible for much of the body's stress response. That last sentence may have been a little heavy on the nerd-speak, but basically scientists have identified the actual pathway between our thinking brains and the organs responsible for managing our stress response, confirming the existence of a mind-body connection. As many of us knew all along, anxiety and depression are not just in our heads!

What makes this new study especially interesting, however, is the number and variety of brain regions that are connected to the adrenal glands that trigger our stress responses. Two of those surprise areas of the brain are the ones that are active when we sense conflict or are aware that we have made a mistake. So when we re-imagine a stressful past experience or a past mistake, this newly identified mind-body connection triggers a stress response just as we experienced during the actual events. The University of Pittsburgh researchers are optimistic that identifying this connection will aid others in developing more effective treatment for folks struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in which they relive traumatic events and emotions.

Not only does this new study highlight potential new treatments, but it also validates existing stress-reduction exercises. This research team has shown a connection between the adrenal system and a part of the brain called the primary motor cortex. That area controls the movement of our core and what's called "axial" movement, like when we pivot on one leg or twist at the waist. So activities like yoga, tai chi, pilates, and even dancing in small spaces (my personal favorite) - exercises that require good alignment, coordination, and flexibility - all use that primary motor cortex, suggesting why modern science has found such a powerful link between those types of exercises and lower stress levels.