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Mind-Body Connection in Chronic Illness

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Physiology
Wordcount: 1734 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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      Mind and body interact in a strong way to the point of affecting a person’s health. An example includes the digestive system that is controlled by the mind and specifically the brain, where anxiety, depression or any form of fear affects the functioning of the system. “Social and psychological stress aggravates chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, migraine and heart conditions” (Sternberg & Gold,  1997). Nonetheless, the significance of the psychological factors varies among different people having the same disorder. Despite limited research on how the stressors increase the conditions, emotions affect different body functions, such as the heart rate, sleeping patterns, stomach acid production, bowel movements, despite no clear connection.

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          For instance, current research reveals that the pathways and processes by which the brain and immune system interact have been established. The brain alters white blood cells activities, causing an immune response because the cells travel throughout the body in blood and lymph vessels not linked to the nerves. More so, the brain communicates with white blood cells, leading to situations where depression suppress the immune system, making an individual highly susceptible to infections such as common cold (Sternberg & Gold, 1997). In most cases, stress causes physical effects, despite no physical disease being present in the body, due to physiological and emotional stress. An example includes stress causing anxiety that triggers an autonomic nervous system and release of asepinephrine hormones that increase the heart rate, causing high blood pressure, too much sweating as well as muscle tension that lead to pain in the body.

        Most importantly, mind-body interaction is two-way, where physical diseases also affect an individual’s ability to think, where people that suffer from life-threatening and chronic conditions are depressed and the depression ends up increasing the individual’s misery. Despite past research on inflammatory diseases showing no correlation between mind and physical illness, current research by ‘National Institute of Health proves otherwise. Molecular and pharmacological tools allow a health professional to establish the intricate network between the immune system and brain, with the two systems signaling one another in a continuous and rapid way. Immune cells produce chemicals that signal the brain, which sends chemical signals to restrain the immune system (Sternberg & Gold, 1997). The chemical signals affect behavior and lead to stress and disruption of the normal communication network through inheritance and use of drugs of surgery exacerbates the disease the system guards against that include infectious, inflammatory, autoimmune and related mood disorders.

        When an individual faces a threatening situation, the brain’s response system is activated and responds to pathogens or foreign molecules. It is an indication that the two response systems play a role in maintaining the internal normal state referred to as homeostasis. A part of the human cellular machinery is responsible to maintain homeostasis and any disturbance to the condition the body experiences molecular, cellular as well as behavioral responses (Sternberg & Gold, 1997). Accordingly, the adaptive responses develop into stressors causing a disease, hence showing the significance of the interdependence between the brain and immune system, essential in regulating and counter-regulation one another and the associated malfunctioning that could cause chronic diseases.

         When a person is suffering from cancer, it is a threatening situation and the stress response leads to physiological and behavioral changes. The stress response of the brain gets into the action, with the patient developing fear and is likely to inhibit behaviors such as lack of sleep, lessening survival chances. In most cases, the body regulates the stress response not to be excessive of suboptimal, helped by the immune system that bars the pathogens from the body destroying those that penetrate. Additionally, the immune system neutralizes dangerous toxins, repair worn out tissues and dispose of abnormal cells. The responses are powerful hence need continuous regulation to enhance effectiveness. Despite the central nervous system and immune system viewed as organized differently, the brain is a centralized command center that sends and receives electrical signals that pass through a fixed pathway. On the other hand, the immune system is decentralized with its organs such as lymph nodes and bone marrow located in the entire body.

        The two systems show similarities in the way they receive, recognize and integrate different signals and structural design to fulfill their roles. Therefore, there is a need for awareness in the mind-body connection, essential in enhancing the quality of life, especially among those with life-threatening conditions. The body and mind are linked closely and their association exerts a positive influence on health and quality of life. Attitudes, beliefs, as well as the emotional conditions such as love and compassion of fear and anger,  lead to different chain reactions affecting blood chemistry, heart rate and cell and organ activities (Sternberg & Gold, 1997). There is a need to improve the mind-body health connection through psychological therapies and utilize the connection through processes such as stress management, personal psychotherapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, and support groups.

       The therapies are essential in enhancing healthy lifestyles and offering those with chronic conditions support and guidance. Treatment increasing mind-body connection help in the management of stress, weight control, substance abuse, and healing of chronic pain and fatigue. Mind-body connection treats the entire body by addressing all body areas where illness occurs. Psychologists use the mind-body connection to collaborate with other care providers such as when a person is undergoing chemotherapy to assess their attitudes, family support structures and attitudes toward their current chronic condition. More so, it offers the patient an opportunity to remain active in personal health care decisions, leading to a speedy recovery from the illness, reduce associated pain and discomfort, shorten the amount of time one stays in hospital and develop effective coping with the illness and improvement of mental alertness and activity.

We could use the example of an ill person experiencing lethargy or excessive sleeping when sick, due to cytokine treatment for immunosuppression in treating cancer and HIV/AIDS (Sternberg & Gold, 1997). The best way to prevent the symptoms include antidepressants, which cause neurons and brain cells to produce cytokines. More so, the cytokines in the brain have the ability to regulate the growth of the nerve cells.

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           In most cases people view stress as personal but perceived through social interaction prism, which either adds or reduces the psychological stress, interfering with the hormonal responses that affect immune responses. The socio-psychological stresses chronic patients experience has an impact on the susceptibility to inflammatory and infectious diseases and the courses of the current condition. For instance, loneliness among people is viewed as a threat or an adrenaline-related pattern activating stress response and high blood pressure. On the other hand, exercising challenges the pattern flow of high blood flow, as well as related cardiac output (Sternberg & Gold, 1997). People facing excessive chronic social stresses for a longer period become susceptibility to the flu. Additionally, the immune response of long-term caregivers of Alzheimer patients leads them to become blunted. This also applies to the immune responses experienced during a marital discord, where the wife becomes blunted because they are the most vulnerable and show feelings of helplessness.

          Similarly, a positive and supportive environment of social networks and group psychotherapy could improve immune response and enhanced resistance to diseases, including cancer. For instance, women suffering from breast cancer, but have a strong social support system during the illness, enjoy longer life spans compared to those without the support. For many years many believed picking a cure from a hot-spring was the only solution for chronic diseases, and this could be linked to the communication between the brain and immune system (Sternberg & Gold,  1997). The physiological explanation could be the reason why many believed the treatment worked. Disrupting such a communication network could increase a person’s susceptibility to the disease, worsening the illness course. On the other hand, restoring the communication system using pharmacological agents and other relaxation modes such as a spa represents a quick way to recovery.

         The findings show that psychoactive drug could help cure inflammatory disease and drugs affecting the immune system could help to treat psychiatric disorders. There is evidence that the way people view themselves, stress management styles and the genetic build-up of an individual affect the immune system. It is also apparent that individuals suffering from chronic conditions face increased levels of anxiety and mood levels. It is, therefore, necessary to classify illness into medical and psychiatric specialties’ to help mark artificial boundaries of the demarcations between the body and mind. 


  • Sternberg, E.M. and Gold, P.W., 1997. The mind-body interaction in disease. Scientific American7(1), pp.8-15.


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