Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – few spaces left and I’m not doing it again!

The mind-body connection – weighed down by worry

This is not me running

If you ever need proof of how your mental experiences connect directly to your body, look no further than what happens when you’re feeling down and distressed: your body underperforms.

This happened to me very noticeably the other day. As you may know, I’m a runner. I use the term loosely. I’m not a very good runner but I do 100km a month and my usual runs are 7-10km. My speeds have been less good this year and I’ve been assuming that this has something to do with the fact that emotionally and mentally, this is being a brutal year.

So, the other day I had a stark and sudden proof of the mind-body connection. I was out on a run and not going too badly, for me. And I got a phone notification. I know, I know, I shouldn’t look at my phone when I’m out running but the stuff that’s going on meant that I did need to. The message brought me another dollop of meh in one of the situations I’m trying to manage. My stress and distress levels rose instantly and my running strength collapsed.

Even though I really needed to get home as soon as possible to deal with the new situation, and running faster would have been the way to achieve that, I just couldn’t. My body wouldn’t operate. I walked most of the way. My brain was working furiously but my body couldn’t. (Actually, I know it was partly because my brain was working furiously that my body couldn’t – not enough brain bandwidth for both.)

It made me think, not for the first time, what it must be like for elite athletes who have to perform to their physical best when their emotions are deep and raging. Of course, adrenalin will do a powerful job in those circumstances but all athletes will have that adrenalin during a performance and the distressed ones will be starting from a lower base.

But haven’t I argued that stress raises performance?

Yes, stress itself raises performance. A lion coming round the corner on my run would certainly have impelled my body to perform brilliantly. So instant anxiety or instant stress are positive experiences, pushing our body to perform at its best. You need anxiety before an exam or performance or race.

So, if that notification I received was stressful, why didn’t it raise my body’s performance? Here’s why and here’s what happened:

  1. Getting the notification will have produced that stress response, yes – a quick surge of adrenalin. It might have been enough to push me for a few strides.
  2. But then my thinking brain takes over, realises there’s no physical danger, sensibly switches off the adrenalin and focuses my mind on the problem.
  3. And the problem – the worry, distress, anxiety, the utterly draining feeling and all the things I have to do about it – is so all-consuming for my mind that there’s nothing left to power my body.

The truth is:

Your body won’t work well or be its most powerful if your mind is weighed down with heavy thoughts and feelings.

We know this. Think how we talk about it:

My heart is heavy – I feel heavy-hearted

I have big things on my mind

I feel weighed down

I feel overwhelmed

It’s a huge burden

I’m carrying a lot of stress

I feel dragged down, weighed down

Heavy heart, heavy mind, heavy body.

What can we do about this?

The first and most important thing is to recognise and acknowledge it as normal. It takes away a lot of the burden, reduces the weight, when you accept that you are experiencing this because you are a human, having a human experience. There’s nothing wrong with you.

Second, ask yourself whether there is anything you can do to improve the situation. There might be or there might not be. You could also ask for someone else’s opinion as a fresh pair of eyes can have new insights.

And finally you can find something in your life you can control, and deal with that. Anything. Go for a walk, have a bath, chat to a friend, cook a new recipe, meditate. Anything that makes you feel better. Even if it does nothing to change the rubbish that’s going on you can change yourself. You can lighten your mind and your burden.

Today, I took two hours out of the heavy stress of my life and I made a mushroom-filled choux pastry wreath. My daughter and her husband and baby were calling by for lunch and I could have bought something or made sandwiches. After all, I do not have time to be making choux pastry! But cooking gives me heartsong and strength and I’m so happy I did it. They’ve gone now and I’m on my office treadmill feeling stronger by the minute.

I might even go for a run!

I’d love to hear about times you’ve noticed your body not doing a great job when your heart and mind are weighed down by worries or emotions.

Do comment but please remember that this site is for all ages.


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