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How Your Mental Health May be Contributing to Physical Symptoms

No longer a separate entity

The ‘mind’ and ‘body’ used to be seen as two separate entities, each working irrespective to the other. However, most people today will agree that they impact each other fully and should never be thought of as separate.

The WHO defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The approach to health needs to be viewed holistically with each person based on their individual experiences, as each will be unique in all parts.

The impact that physical conditions can have on mental and emotional health is widely discussed, yet the way our mental health can impact us physically seems less discussed for some reason. With around 1 in 5 adults suffering with a mental health illness in any given year, it’s important to address the connection from both perspectives.


What can the physical effects include?

Depression can increase your risk of a number of diseases and other conditions in numerous ways. One way is by increasing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can affect the immune system making it harder for your body to fight infection.

Depression has also been found to be associated with an increased risk of cancer and coronary heart disease. If you’re seeking help purely for your mental health, it is not common for physical symptoms to be detected and included in the treatment plan, this is usually when you will be recommended to seek the help of another healthcare professional.

Some common effects of stress if left untreated can lead to symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal symptoms and sleep problems to name a few. These symptoms can lead to more stress which then becomes a vicious cycle unless we address both the mental and physical aspects together.


What can you do about it? 

Having the awareness that your mental health may be contributing to physical symptoms, and vice versa, is the first step to finding out what treatment you could benefit from. Speak with a qualified health professional who works holistically by treating the mental and physical health as one entity.

Some lifestyle changes could also help to ease both mental and physical symptoms, such as:

  • Taking regular exercise – exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that can ease depression and anxiety. Choose exercise that you enjoy doing, if you see it as a chore, you are less likely to stick to it. Do you enjoy running, or some form of cardio? Or does a gentler program such as yoga or Pilates appeal to you more?
  • Eating a healthy diet – If your diet is predominantly made up of processed, high-calorie and low nutrient foods, these foods have been linked with increased depression and anxiety. Start replacing some of these foods with whole foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy fats. Go slow so it isn’t a drastic change all at once, change a couple of things to begin with, by removing or reducing certain foods and adding in healthier alternatives, monitor how these changes make you feel.
  • Ensuring you are getting enough quality sleep – Not getting enough sleep has been linked with depression, anxiety and stress. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. If you feel that the quality of your sleep is not good, you could try creating a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a bath with Epsom Salts or lavender essential oil. Try turning off all screens at least an hour before you go to bed and try not to drink any caffeine after 3pm.


Introduce stress reducing techniques throughout your day 

One way to address stress, anxiety and depression as well as having a positive effect on your physical wellbeing is to practice breathing techniques throughout the day. The more they are practised the more you will find you are able to build reserves of calm and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Breathing techniques are also beneficial because they have a quick effect, you can usually feel a difference after 10-20 minutes of practice. There are many techniques you can try, once you have found one you like, try practising it 2 or 3 times throughout the day over the course of a couple of weeks and see how you feel. If you are starting to notice a positive difference, stick with it. Doing a round of breathing exercises before bed can also help you to fall asleep quicker and have a deeper quality of sleep if that’s something you struggle with.


Positive thoughts and emotions on mental & physical health

Positive thoughts lead to positive emotions which has a positive effect on your mental health, which in turn has a positive effect on your physical health. Start by being aware of your thoughts and thought patterns throughout the day to see if there is any work that needs to be done in this area. Set your alarm to go off every hour and observe what you were just thinking about when it went off. Make a note of how many times your thoughts were positive and how many times they were negative. If the negative outweighs the positive, which is common with mental health conditions, keep going with monitoring your thoughts and when you become aware of negative thoughts, replace them with positive ones. If there has been long term negative thinking, the mind will need to be re-trained to think positively, so keep going, it could even take a few months to start noticing a difference. Keep a journal and review every few weeks to see what mental and emotional and physical changes take place. Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, can be as simple as thinking about something you are grateful for in that moment.

If you try any of these techniques, come back and let us know how you get on in the comments!


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