What the Heart Knows, the Brain Told It

Salt Lake City, UT — (ReleaseWire) — 02/23/2022 — When it comes to a person’s overall physical health, sometimes it’s helpful to take a step back and recognize that, in addition to the physical manifestations of an ailment, there is likely a mental component, as well.

“The mind, essentially the brain, is the computer for the rest of the body,” said Aaron Vazquez, MD, adult psychiatrist and medical director for Behavioral Health at Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital. “It’s in charge of making sense of our external environment and making decisions that keep us alive.”

Whether those decisions are related to a person’s success in relationships or their cardiovascular health โ€” both big topics during February’s Heart Health Month โ€” the impact of the mind on a person’s life is “very strong.”

“If the computer is failing or glitching out, the areas it controls are going to do the same,” Dr. Vazquez said.

According to Dr. Vazquez, one example of the power the mind has over the body is illustrated by the success seen in the Wim Hof Method.

“It’s a method that includes extensive breath work and exposing the body to regular stressors โ€” like cold water โ€” in order to show what can be done with the mind in terms of controlling your physiology,” Dr. Vazquez said. “This method has been scientifically proven to improve immune responses and heart health.”

Whether a person subscribes to this method or not, Dr. Vazquez said it illustrates the power of “mind over matter,” which can be beneficial in a wide range of physical health-related issues.

“The key is to create awareness, to dial down the noise and distractions in our lives and focus on what matters most to us. For most people, one of those things is physical health,” Dr. Vazquez said.

But awareness is only the first step.

“Healthy thinking is necessary, and a good start, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to healthy behavior,” Dr. Vazquez said. “From there, insight and a change in behavior are required.”

One way to more effectively change behavior is to develop healthy rituals.

“As a psychiatrist, in order to understand a person’s anxiety, for example, we have to understand their routines and habits,” said Dr. Vazquez. A lot of time is spent examining those rituals and looking for dysfunction. Usually the dysfunction lies in the inconsistencies.

“It’s not necessarily important what time you go to sleep, but what matters is that it’s the same time every day,” Dr. Vazquez continued. “Similarly, in order to give adequate time to physical and mental health you need to have a plan as part of your routine, whether that is exercising each morning for 30 minutes, eating lunch with friends rather than eating alone, writing a gratitude list every dayโ€ฆ it’s all very individualized.”

Ultimately, people only give attention to what they make time to give attention to in a very routine way, Dr. Vazquez said.

If you have a routine that leads to healthy physical behaviors and you follow through on the routine, you get rewarded with a dopamine hit that you did something correctly. And you’re more likely to want to repeat the behavior.

As for the mind’s impact on relationships, Dr. Vazquez said in his experience of treating those struggling with mental illness, it almost always impacts those with whom they have relationships.

“I’ve never seen a spouse living their best life when the one they love the most is struggling with severe mood swings or anxiety. It takes both of you through that roller coaster,” Dr. Vazquez said. “Conversely, someone’s good mental health is more likely to lead to a shared sense of wellness for them and their partner.”

It all comes back to the impact the brain has on one’s physical well being; a computer connection that is difficult to override.

“The biggest limiting factor to our personal growth and development are the limitations we put on ourselves,” Dr. Vazquez said. “Negative thoughts slow our growth. Positive thoughts put people on a path to a greater positive outcome both mentally and physically.”

If you or a loved one find yourself struggling, a variety of free services are available in Utah with online support are out there for anyone in need.

– Intermountain’s Behavioral Health Navigation Line 833-442-2211

Outside of Utah, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your primary care provider.

About Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 25 hospitals, 225 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,600 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in clinical quality improvement and in efficient healthcare delivery. For more information about Intermountain, visit intermountainhealthcare.org, read our blogs, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

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Media Relations Contact

Brad Gillman
Media Relations
Intermountain Healthcare
Telephone: 1-801-442-2811
Email: Click to Email Brad Gillman
Web: https://intermountainhealthcare.org/locations/st-george-regional-hospital/medical-specialties/behavioral-health/