“In a disordered mind, as in a disordered body, soundness of health cannot exist.”
As the philosopher Cicero implies, your body and your mind are inextricable from each other in your overall health and well-being. They work together seamlessly; your physical health connecting to your mental health, and your mental health connecting to your physical health.
Because you cannot detangle one from the other, it’s not enough to approach your mental health solely by treating your thoughts. Conditions and challenges of the mind, like anxiety, depression, negative self-perception, trauma, and racing thoughts, often manifest in the body.
This is because mental stress frequently incites the fight-or-flight response, which is very much rooted in the body.
You may have felt the effects of this with physical symptoms like an elevated heart rate, tightness in the chest, shallow breathing, or feeling jittery or tense — but you may also not be immediately aware of those physical symptoms. That doesn’t mean, however, that your body is unaffected. If you’re under constant mental stress, fight-or-flight can become your body’s baseline state.
Think of treating your mental health in two levels. According to PALM Health’s counselor and well-being coach Lara Pennington, “The first level is calming the body, and the second is tending to your thoughts.” In order to access the second level, you have to pass through the first.
Certainly, in moments of strong emotion or anxiety, it can be helpful to first and foremost calm the body. But speaking more broadly, making a routine out of treating and calming your body can actually take down the baseline level of fight-or-flight stress on a longer-term basis.
So, what are some ways you can work on calming your body regularly? Lara shares some of the best ways to bring your attention to your body for better mental health.
1. Go for walks outside.
Stress, anxiety, and rumination can often result in your thoughts feeling stagnant or stuck, and in order to move your thoughts, you have to move your body.
The simplest way to do this is to take a walk. Whether it’s a fifteen-minute break for a lap around the block or a longer hike in nature, walking may help break the cycle of negative thoughts and bring you back into your body.
Since we are all inseparably a part of nature, it plays a key role in helping us process and move past our ruminating thoughts — so even if it’s just a short walk, being out in nature in itself can be a powerful tool to calm you physiologically and mentally.
2. Practice Cardiac Coherence breathing.
Negative emotions have a major influence on your heart. When you experience the symptoms of anxiety, stress, or emotional trauma, it causes your heart rate to become invariable (irregular), which is a state of cardiac incoherence or mind-body disconnection.
In this state, your heart cannot send strong or coherent signals to your brain, which is why when you’re anxious, emotional, or highly stressed, it can be tough to think straight.
To bring yourself out of this state and more toward coherence (think: calmness, mind-body connection, and regular heart rate), you can learn and practice the Cardiac Coherence breathing technique, which is designed to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, bring a harmonious rhythm back to your body, and encourage positive emotions.
You can schedule a one-on-one Cardiac Coherence session with Lara to learn the technique, practice it, and ask any questions you may have.
3. Try a weekly or daily meditation.
Meditation, while generally thought of as a mental relaxation technique, can actually be a way to calm the body as well. Certain meditations, such as the ones formulated by the Anthropedia Foundation, are designed to help you calm down and get into your body in different ways.
For example, the Silence of the Mind meditation, which is often taught in our meditation classes at PALM, is based on two steps which address the two levels of your mental health (body and thoughts): first, you relax and calm down, then, you observe and reflect on your thoughts.
The first step of this meditation is designed to help your body get calm by taking a few breaths and getting to a place of stillness and quiet. This slows down the physiological feelings often associated with a state of anxiety or stress.
Once you’re calm, you’ll have the space to go through a guided reflection on your thoughts and, later on, contemplation.
Meditations like Silence of the Mind intentionally involve a body-calming phase first in order to put you in the best possible state to calm and nurture your thoughts.
4. Treat your body to a weekly Trilogy at PALM.
Our Vitality Sessions, which are geared towards longevity and mind-body recovery, treat your body by reducing inflammation, promoting circulation, increasing detoxification, and calming your sympathetic nervous system. By doing this, in turn, these services can improve your sleep quality, bring down general anxiety and stress, and boost your resilience.
The “Trilogy” is a set of three Vitality Sessions: cryotherapy, followed by infrared sauna or BioMat, followed by the salt room.
Cryotherapy is an intense 3-minute cold therapy that reduces inflammation, increases endorphins, and helps with energy and pain. Warm up right afterwards with either the infrared sauna or the BioMat — two ways to treat yourself with infrared heat, which penetrates deeply into your tissues to promote circulation, relieve tension, and promote relaxation. Finally, finish up in the salt room, which uses ionized Himalayan salt particles in the air to help with detoxification and energy.
When stacked together one after the other, these services’ benefits complement each other to bring your body into a harmonious and overall calmed state.
Making time for a Trilogy regularly can not only help you relax in times of heightened stress, but also give you a routine outlet to physiologically let go of the week’s tensions that have inevitably built up in your body.
If you’re a member with unlimited Vitality Sessions, you can schedule your Trilogy any time on the app or by contacting reception. If you aren’t sure what your member benefits are, you can chat with your Navigator to find out.
If you’re not a member but would like to try out the Trilogy, you can visit us with a One Day Membership to see our services for yourself.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of exercise.
Exercise obviously has its benefits across many areas of your health, like your strength, mobility, stability, physiological function, and longevity, but don’t forget that it can also serve the purpose of calming your body or engaging your body in a way that can help your mental health.
For some individuals, going for a run can be a cathartic therapy to break them out of unhealthy thought patterns; for others, yoga, Pilates, or tai chi may be the exercise that works the best. Whatever the form may be, regularly engaging in your favorite type of exercise is a way to give your body the attention it needs in order for your mind to calm down.
Whichever strategies you choose to work on calming your body, it’s imperative to make a routine out of it.
“In moments of high emotion, stress, or anxiety, your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain responsible for decision-making and regulation of actions) goes offline,” says Lara. “So, it becomes quite difficult to think of what to do.”
Thus, if your body-based relaxation strategies are not routine, you may have a hard time reaching for them during those moments when you really need them.
But, if you make a routine out of it and treat your body on a regular basis — even when your mind is already calm — you’ll be able to automatically find and rely on those techniques in tough situations. Plus, engaging in regular body-based relaxation will, over time, help to bring down your general level of stress and anxiety.
In honor of October’s World Mental Health Day, we’d like to encourage you to try to do one thing to treat your body every day this month. You may just find that it can change the game for your mental space.