Chickens, Eggs, Minds, Bodies

The fact that we have a word for mind and another for body makes it seem obvious that mind and body are two different things. People talk about their bodies as if bodies are what we live in. For people with chronic pain, the body may feel like something they’re trapped in.

But this view of mind and body being separate things, as obvious as it may feel to us, can get blurry around the edges. Ask yourself this. Since the mind lives in the body, or so it seems, where does the mind end and the body begin?

We all know that when we feel bad physically from illness, injury or fatigue, we are generally not at our best mentally. Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors and strokes can lead to devastating changes in the functioning of the mind. Chronic pain patients are all too familiar with memory problems and difficulties with concentration even though psychological tests may place them in the normal range of mental function.

Conversely, we also know how strong emotions such as fear and anger can cause profound physiological changes. Repeated exposure to mental stress can have a negative impact on physical health right down to the level of the immune system. Pure mental effort in the form of concentration, imagery and /or rehearsal can modify physical functions from athletic performance to blood pressure. In my writing to date, I’ve repeatedly emphasized the importance of psychological (i.e. mental) approaches to managing chronic pain.

Given all of the above, it becomes more difficult to separate mind from body because they are so obviously connected at many different levels. Each affects the other for good and ill. Because chronic pain is a condition involving physical and mental processes it serves as an example of the intricate (and yet to be completely understood) links between the body and mind.

In fact, there is no scientific answer to where the body ends and mind begins. It becomes a kind of chicken and egg question in my opinion. With respect to treating pain, this discussion of mind and body points to one important idea. Mind and body are both involved in the experience of pain. Both can be used therefore to change the experience of pain.

I believe that people can learn to do this for themselves.

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