Psychophysiology is the branch of physiology that is concerned with the relationship between mental (psyche) and physical (physiological) processes; it is the scientific study of the interaction between mind and body. The field of psychophysiology draws upon the work of physicians, psychologists, biochemists, neurologists, engineers, and other scientists.
A psychophysiological disorder is characterized by physical symptoms that are partly induced by emotional factors. Some of the more common emotional states responsible in forming illness include; anxiety, stress, and fear.
Common psychosomatic ailments include:
- migraine headaches,
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
- ulcerative colitis, and
- heart disease.
The field of psychophysiology is leading the way to an ongoing investigation into the intricacies of the mind/body relationship.
Applied psychophysiology focuses on the effects of emotional states on the central nervous system, by observing and recording data on such physiological processes as sleep rhythms, heart rate, gastrointestinal functioning, immune response, and brain function.
In an effort to quantify the effectiveness of different treatment techniques, the science of psychophysiology is being applied to many areas of alternative medicine, from psychotherapy and hypnosis to bodywork and meditation. Studies of the effects of emotional states on various physiological processes abound. For instance, it has been shown that there is a relation between loneliness and heart disease, as well as a connection between post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia.
There are several interpretations of what a healthy psychophysiology may look like. However, there are common characteristics that speak of mind/body health. Ultimately, such a holistic state exists when internal and mental awareness becomes strong enough to create a sense of embodiment, balance, and presence in an individual’s body. Disease may be present in such a state, yet with this underlying, holistic understanding there exists more fighting power by which to heal. Science is proving this fact. Therapies that integrate mind/body processes have been shown to aid the healing processes for numerous diseases.
When stresses, traumas, or debilitating emotional states are present, individuals may experience physiological unrest. For example, if an individual with a known allergy to bee stings receives such a sting, the natural reaction could be panic. As a result of this psychological response, blood pressure and heart rate increase, digestive functions decrease, and the person becomes dizzy.
If emotional stresses or traumas of this kind remain in the body/mind for extended periods of time, an imbalance in the healthy system may eventually manifest, as when individuals under chronic stress succumb to illness or disease. The field of psychophysiology is showing that the most effective treatments are those that address the emotional states of disease as well as the physical aspects.