If you’ve ever gone through a period of extreme stress or poor mental health, you know what usually happens: your heart races, your palms sweat, your breath shortens. You might even feel ill after the tension eases. That’s your body responding.
Of course, symptoms vary from person to person, but the reason it happens is the same: our body reacts to the way our minds work. And this link is always there - not just when we are experiencing extreme stress - it's constant.
Mental health and physical health are inherently connected—meaning the body won’t be healthy if the mind isn’t. If something’s wrong in the brain, such as chemical imbalances, our bodies will react accordingly, bringing about symptoms like...
- Racing heartbeat
- Among others
Only in Australia, up to 15 percent of older adults suffer from depression, while 10 percent deal with anxiety. In fact, several common symptoms we notice in depression and anxiety can mimic those of more serious diseases like heart attacks and brain tumors. Yet when associated to psychological disorders, they’re completely harmless.
Why is that?
One of the culprits is the stress hormone, cortisol, as well as the happy chemicals in our brains. When they get out of control or aren’t effectively produced, your body feels the consequences.
There are plenty of ways to care for your mental health in order to keep your body working at its best. Let’s take a closer look at why you should be paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you.
Mental Illness Could Lead to Physical Illness
A certain amount of cortisol is good for us. It helps reduce inflammation, it regulates our metabolism, it controls blood sugar levels, as well as assists in blood pressure control. However, when we’re stressed out too often, high amounts of cortisol increase the production of small proteins called inflammatory cytokines. This increase can inhibit our immune response, leaving our bodies more susceptible to illness and infection.
Diseases like psoriasis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), for instance, are known to flare especially during peaks of stress. Hence the importance of training our minds to relax: less stress means less cortisol floods, which in turn lessens our chances of developing stress-related illnesses.
Mental Disorders Can Interfere With “Happy” Brain Chemicals
One of the most common reported symptoms of depression is low mood. Our mood and overall motivation are regulated by the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, also known as “happy” chemicals. They’re responsible for feelings like excitement and reward, as in when we eat something we really like or finally achieve a long-awaited goal.
A dysfunction or imbalance of these neurotransmitters can result in low mood or lack of motivation. And when we’re unmotivated to the point we don’t feel like leaving our beds, our bodies suffer. When in a low mood, we crave junk food. We don’t exercise. At least not until we feel better.
Simple, Affordable, and Effective Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health
It’s worth repeating: when your mind isn’t okay, your body won’t be. If not in the short term, your physical health will see the negative effects in the long run.
Gladly, there are simple steps you can take to counter those harmful effects or eradicate them altogether. The best of all: you’ll get to do them while exercising both your mind and your body.
Stay active. People mistake “being active” for exercising at a gym or going jogging. While those activities certainly help reduce anxiety and depression, being active could be as simple as cleaning the house, walking the dog, dancing, or doing anything that keeps the body in motion. It distracts the mind from burdensome thoughts and releases dopamine, the happy chemical we talked about earlier.
Meditate. There’s a reason why you see this tip everywhere: it works. Meditation is an activity you can do anywhere, as long as it’s quiet. The power of meditation lies in connecting mind and body in order to bring our attention to the present moment. By focusing on our breathing and letting go of thoughts instead of holding onto them, we can enter a deep state of relaxation and forget about out troubles for a while.
Try personal mental health coaching. If you’ve tried traditional counseling and thought it wasn’t for you, personal mental health coaching is worth your time. A formally qualified coach will not only help you overcome your mental health issues—they will develop your natural skills in a way you’ll feel motivated to achieve your goals, even during struggle. Think of mental health coaching as personal training for your goals and ambitions, as well as your refuge during hardship and uncertainty.
But what do we do when we're worried about someone else?
While it's good to understand the mental and physical health connection within ourselves, we also need to remember this connection exists in everyone.
If you're worried about someone else's mental health, there is a simple model you can use to open up a conversation with the person.
Avoid mental health care at your peril—it’s that important to keep your physical health in top shape. Muscles aside, our bodies will only work as far as our minds will allow them.
So tell me, what are your methods to take care of both mental and physical health?