In the 17th century, French philosopher Rene Descartes famously pronounced his philosophy of mind-body dualism, declaring that body and mind were two separate entities. As a man of science, he struck a deal with the Roman Catholic Church: Descartes would focus on human anatomy, leaving the church to focus on caring for the mind and soul.
Fast forward four hundred years and the division still exists between mind and body today, albeit with recent progress. Western medicine continues to view mind and body as mutually exclusive, treating the symptoms without holistically investigating the cause. Even our modern society reinforces this belief, attaching a stigma to mental weakness while remaining fully compassionate towards body aches. Consider the following: if you are suffering from high anxiety and back pain (yes, they typically are related) at work, which affliction will your boss and colleagues empathize with and support your lack of productivity? You will get approval to visit the chiropractor but leaving work early to see a mental health professional will only raise eyebrows. Similarly, a devastating migraine will surpass dealing with a stressful relationship issue on your friends’ sympathy scale any time when sharing these maladies. The backache, the headache, the stomachache are all more tangible and relatable than the web of complexities our mind spins. When the body aches, we can all recommend quick fixes like aspirin, vitamins, liquids, massage, etc but who among us wants to dive in and deal with a messy anxiety attack?
Even the term psychosoma, which literally translates to mind and body as a collective, functional unit, sounds daunting and conjures up “issues”. But I would venture to say any of us with sufficient life experiences is psychosomatic, it’s just human nature. We all suffer from the mind body connection in minor, and often, major ways daily as existence in these modern times is stressful. To deny this is to renounce our unique ability in the animal kingdom to feel, think, reflect on the past and ponder the future in our busy world.
The solution to dealing with symptoms caused by the mind is awareness, to be mindful of our toxic thoughts and feelings. As long as we are breathing, our mind will busily produce thoughts like the ocean creates waves. We cannot, and should not, try to stop these waves, but rather learn how to surf them. Our thoughts, just like waves, flow through our minds but shall pass so long as we do not attach or cling to them. It is when we grab onto anxious or emotionally charged discursive thoughts like anger, fear and hate and attach to them that we can potentially inflict psychosomatic harm to ourselves. Our powerful mind will transfer the pain to the body to distract us, thereby relieving us of the duty to resolve the mental anguish. Our focus now turns toward a new, more immediate problem as the mind wreaks havoc on our body.
Only through knowledge and awareness, when we acquiesce and delve into our minds to understand the root catalyst for our pain, can we find sustainable relief. We need to treat the cause, not the symptom. We may be experiencing physical pain, but it often emanates from our tricky minds.
Descartes can hardly be blamed for his misdiagnosis centuries ago as the stress factors in our modern world have grown exponentially. But we should no longer remain in the dark about the powerful connection between mind and body. Psychosoma power is undeniably real and we need more open dialogue about it. It starts with reducing the social stigma of mental health as a perceived weakness among family and friends and grows with increasing education and awareness within the medical community. It needs to be in the fabric of our conversations, a comfortable part of our vernacular, to better recognize psychosomatic behavior early on rather than wait for it to manifest into a debilitating condition later on. The sooner we embrace the mind body connection, the better we can understand the miraculous healing qualities of psychosoma power.