WARNING: humor heals. So if you laugh while reading a topic you normally wouldn’t have laughed at, no need to feel uncomfortable, it was my goal. Also, I just can’t help myself.
I’m going to be honest with you. I have never actually taken the time to read a research article on how mental health and physical health are connected. However, I know they are. Think about it; have you ever gone to see a chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, primary care physician, oncologist, cardiologist, etc., and not had them ask you about your stress level? Even just yesterday I had a haircut and we were discussing my hair loss.
After mentioning my age (my mental health took a hit there), she immediately asked about my stress level. Last time I checked hair loss was a medical condition but she was asking about my mental health, my well-being.
Are you convinced? Ok, now that we all agree that our mental health and physical health are connected we can also agree that it is important to work on both, right?
Wait… you are questioning me again?
Oh, ok before you start to think I’m leaving mental health out of the conversation let me explain. Stress is common and without stigma. It is an easy question to ask and usually an easy question to answer honestly because it happens to everyone. However, stress is often the gatekeeper to…wait for it…the less talked about mental health buzz words like depression and anxiety. SIDE NOTE: if we talked about anxiety and depression more there would be less stigma and we would realize a lot of people have had feelings of anxiety and depression. This would make it easier to ask for help. END OF SIDE NOTE. So if we let our stress get unmanageable it is going to negatively affect our mental health, or wellness in numerous ways.
So now we all agree our mental wellness can affect our physical wellness. For example, if someone is feeling stressed or anxious they may not sleep well, or eat well. We know the importance of rest and nutrition on our health. Stress can increase certain chemicals in our brain (it can overstimulate your limbic system, but we don’t need to get too technical here) that can increase heart rate and raise blood pressure, just to name a few symptoms. Deep cleansing breaths increase the oxygen flow in our system, that sounds helpful, right? Conversely, our physical health affects our mental health. Chronic pain or the introduction of new ailments/diagnoses, for example, can increase negative thinking and cause unwanted emotions like anxiety and depression (there are those buzz words again.) And don’t get me started on how a medical condition causing shortness of breath can confuse the Limbic system into fight or flight!
So if one affects the other then it is in our best interest to work on our mental and physical wellness at the same time. I can just hear you starting to yell at me through the magazine, “but how?? That sounds overwhelming!” Well, you don’t need to yell, just breathe…its mental wellness right? I was just going to get to that. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or done perfectly, or all at once. Phew! Feel better already?
Life is busy, it’s complicated, and society kind of sets us up to be stressed…I mean have you been watching 2020 happen? So try baby steps. This conversation is a good start. Recognizing and remembering the importance of checking in with your health. All parts of your health for that matter.
Mind, body, and spirit as they say. (I have no idea who “they” are, just roll with it.) Actually, let’s take a minute right now to check-in. Close your eyes and take a breath, then come back to the page….are you back? Great! How was the check-in? Are there things that can use improvement? Maybe make a list of things that might help. Have you been ignoring a new ache? Add call the doctor to the list. Has your patience level with your kids been less than you would like? Schedule some self-care.
Wait… you do know what self-care is, right? And you do it, right? We need self-care this year more than ever! 2020, it started with our unexpected grief for a sports hero, followed shortly by a worldwide pandemic that was sure to cause extra worry for those of us with health concerns, and was followed by more stresses and griefs than anyone could have predicted. We are all still in this storm. Some in yachts, some treading water trying to keep from drowning, and most of us somewhere in between. Any way we can reduce our stress is crucial and self-care is a priority.
Some self-care is more normative and societally universal. (I fully recognized that this list is not exhaustive and more importantly may not be true or accessible to the underprivileged.) Things such as going to the doctor for checkups, dental exams, eye exams, sleeping, exercising, and bathing regularly. Those are the general care activities that help us function and keep us mentally and physically healthy. However, it is important to focus on self-care right now and to do more of it.
It is time to think outside the box! The best kind of self-care makes you feel good as well as quiets the mind. So it is unique to the individual. It can be giving back to others with an act of kindness. It can be physical activity like a great workout or a walk on the beach. It can be a bubble bath or a book and blanket by the fire. For some, it is alone time and for others it is socialization. Now, these two things haven’t been easy to come by with COVID-19. Those that live alone have to work harder to find ways to socialize and those living with others have to find ways to be alone. But please do it, make it a priority, it will help!
The bottom line is, make your wellness a priority. Treat yourself kindly in your thoughts and your daily choices. When you need help, ask for it. Some of those on the rafts, boats, and yachts surely have a life preserver. Your wellness matters, you matter.
Aw, I can hear your smiles getting bigger, your posture getting straighter, and your breathing slower and deeper as we conclude this conversation!
Please remember, when your mental health improves and your physical health improves, all areas of your life improve. Who knows, you might just save your life in the process!
Where most therapists are taught to look at therapy through normal and abnormal psychology, a social worker is taught to look at what the client wants and how to find solutions to improve the client's life from where it is today, with less concern for diagnosis and labels.