Steamboat Springs We all know that the mind and body are connected. We have "gut reactions" to situations, and we pucker up when we imagine a lemon. But how does that connection affect our health? Can we become more conscious of these connections and exert some control over our physiologic responses?
Medicine has focused on external causes for disease over the past 100 years and has effectively treated many acute illnesses, from infections to injuries. However, many of the most important illnesses in this country are chronic illnesses related directly or indirectly to behaviors such as smoking, lack of exercise, overeating of the wrong foods and styles of coping with stress.
Yampa Valley Medical Center will present a free "Taking Care of Me" program called Your Mind/Body Connection at 7 p.m. Thursday in the hospital's conference center. Carole Milligan, M.D., and Victoria Strohmeyer will explain how the mind/body connection influences health and will discuss ways of integrating mind/body strategies into your life. Dress comfortably for some modest movement.
Those who have chronic illnesses often feel out of control. There is a way to learn to cope better, change behavior if necessary and maximize the power of our minds.
Mind/body medicine, or behavioral medicine, uses a variety of techniques and tools to help people. Whether you are stuck with a symptom that persists despite your best efforts, or you want to change your behavior in some way, these therapies may benefit you.
Often we consider situations in our lives stressful, meaning that circumstances threaten our well-being in some way. Sometimes we can't change the situation directly, but we can change how we think and feel about it, even if at first this seems impossible.
Mind/body therapies include a wide variety of relaxation techniques, yoga for body awareness, exercise and nutrition for good health, cognitive-behavioral techniques for assessing and changing inaccurate beliefs, and practice with unfamiliar coping strategies to enlarge our repertoires. Sometimes it is just a matter of truly seeing what is possible.
Five years ago, Steamboat Springs resident Peggie Filer faced the challenge of locally advanced breast cancer. Thrown totally out of control emotionally at first, she used a familiar coping strategy: she began gathering information. This led to choices she could make as well as an active support network. Then she took a further step.
In addition to carefully choosing what conventional medical treatment she would use and the physicians who would deliver it, Peggie used a wide variety of mind/body therapies. These therapies enhanced her ability to cope with the disease and its treatment and to build a new vision of health for herself.
Peggie developed a regular meditation practice and increased her commitment to regular aerobic exercise. Additionally, she looked seriously at her perfectionism and how it caused her stress. Finally, she used a journal to help her think through issues and express her feelings. Peggie still uses the techniques today to maintain her good health.
Mind/body therapies that promote self-awareness and stress reduction need to be incorporated into medical care. At present, the emphasis in medicine remains on medications and procedures to treat illness. But for all of us, whether we have an illness or not, the power of the mind/body connection affects us every moment of every day. If we are willing to experiment a bit, we have the ability to choose a healthier life.
Carole L. Milligan, M.D., is a principal in Mind/Body Medical Associates, P.C.