Hello, and welcome back to the Therapy Spot! On today’s episode, I spoke with Cora Forstén ND, MSOM, LAC. After practicing as a naturopathic primary care physician for 6 years in Portland, Oregon, Cora relocated to Stockholm, Sweden. Naturopathic medicine combines natural remedies — including herbs as well as diet and lifestyle changes — alongside modern medicine. Commonly used for healing and recovery (rather than emergencies), the end goal of naturopathic medicine is long-term results.
Together, we discussed the importance of the mind-body connection when it comes to both physical and mental health. Self care is always important — but it’s especially important to attend to your physical body when you don’t feel your best mentally.
Naturopathy and the Mind-Body Connection
In her practice, Cora combines modern medicinal science with acupuncture, Chinese medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy to get to the root of chronic daily concerns. Some of these may include:
- Sleep dysfunction
- Poor digestion
- Low energy
- Chronic muscle pain/tightness
- Hormonal fluctuations
Though it may sound like these are all physical concerns, they are of course linked to mental health. After all, your brain is a part of your body! If your body suffers, so does your mind — and vice versa. It’s not hard to imagine that a lack of quality sleep would negatively affect your mental health in the long term. That goes for everything else on the list, too.
One place where you can really see this mind-body connection is with stress.
The Consequences of Long Term Stress
When it comes to stress and your body, the autonomic nervous system regulates our body’s stress response. That system is composed of 2 parts: the parasympathetic nervous system, and the sympathetic nervous system. Let’s talk a little bit about what each system does.
The parasympathetic system helps your body “rest and digest”. It slows your heart rate and breathing, promotes digestion, relaxes your muscles and restores the body to a state of calm. It is in this state that your body can regenerate and heal itself.
The sympathetic system does just the opposite, by activating your “fight or flight” response. This system increases your heart rate and breathing, contracts your muscles, and increases alertness. It decreases non-vital body functions (like digestion) and increases stress hormones (like cortisol). It also raises your blood glucose level, giving you more immediate energy for that fight or flight.
Ideally, your sympathetic nervous system only becomes active when you encounter a threat. After the threat has passed, the parasympathetic system should take over again, and restore balance to your system. As many of you already know, however, it’s possible to get “stuck” in the stress response. Living in perpetual stress means we spend most of our time in fight or flight.
Have you ever been so worried about a loved one, or an upcoming event like an exam, that you couldn’t sleep? Or felt like your stomach was “tied up in knots”? Clearly, stress hormones disrupt our sleep and digestion over time. Eventually, with unrelenting stress, the body never gets a chance to fully recover. We have trouble sleeping, and the sleep we do get isn’t restful. We’re irritable, anxious, and sad. We even feel physical pain more acutely!
Balance, Self Care, and Healing
Ultimately, your stressors, along with how you respond to them both physically and emotionally, create your daily reality. If you’re stuck in a stress response, your daily reality might feel pretty overwhelming! Cora and I spent some time talking about ways to support your body in how it responds to stress, and find space for compassion for yourself.
When it comes to discovering patterns and striking a balance, Cora emphasizes the importance of listening. “The person that knows the most about their situation is the person living it. One of the best things we can do, regardless of what kind of practitioner we are, is sit and listen. Most of the time, people are trying to give us the answer! We just have to help them put the pieces together.”
Cora, thank you so much for coming onto the show and sharing your wonderful insights on topics from acupuncture to seasonal affective disorder. I hope that all of you out there listening find her wisdom as useful as I did. Take some time to think about ways to care for your physical body alongside your mental health. Until next time!