Anatomy of the Mind/Body Connection

In her TED talk, Dr. Lissa Rankin gives the following simple explanation of the mind/body connection.

2014-03-08 13.29.21 HDRIn a stress response, negative thoughts/beliefs/feelings are perceived as a threat. This signals the lower parts of the brain. Messages are sent from the amygdala to the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland signals the adrenal glands, which then excrete the hormones cortisone, norepinephrine and epinephrine. This stress response triggers the sympathetic nervous system, and puts us into the fight/flight mode.

According to Dr. Rankin, most people have 50 stress responses a day, and some people can have more than twice as many. I suspect that my body was often in this stressed, fight/flight mode throughout my life, and this contributed to the development of my pain condition.


The parasympathetic nervous system gives us the counter balancing relaxation response and contains the hormones oxytocin, dopamine, and the endorphins. Dr. Rankin postulates that when the nervous system is relaxed, the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms flip on. Some activities that the research shows may turn on the parasympathetic/relaxed side of the nervous system are: meditation, creativity, massage, yoga, tai chi, friends, work you love, laughing, exercising, and playing with animals.

To heal my pain condition, it was helpful to discover my unconscious thoughts/beliefs/feelings that were stressful, and work through them. Then they no longer became a trigger for the fight/flight response in my body. It was also helpful to actively engage the parasympathetic nervous system, and many of the activities that were effective in the research were also helpful for me. When I learned to live on the calmer side of the nervous system, it helped to restore my happiness and health.