Welcome to the third blog in our seven-part series focused around Mental Health Awareness Week and raising awareness of the various aspects of mental health, highlighting key issues and breaking down stigmas where necessary.
Now, when we think of mental health… we think of literal mental health; all the ways in which our brain is impacted, the way we think. Almost all of our concerns are primarily focused on the brain. Because mental health only impacts the brain, right?
But what about the physical side of mental health?
Perplexing sentence, right? If we’ve got a bad back, shouldn’t that count as physical health? How can a neurobiological condition that latches onto our thought-process end up limiting our bodies and our physical interactions?
A great many ways, actually. And to illustrate our point, we shall be looking at the physical effects of the two greatest contributors to poor mental health.
Anxiety and depression are among the most recurring mental health conditions people have to work through; with 7.8% of the UK population fit the profile for mixed anxiety and depression. Now, many of us know that anxiety can range from leaving us mildly on edge to in a seemingly constant neurotic state, until we arrive at a point where we can be easily provoked into a full-blown panic attack if the stress piles up.
But being on an extensive anxiety high takes up a lot of strain, and you feel heightened, to the point where you feel restless, unable to stop and relax and take yourself off that high. This will no doubt impact your sleeping patterns, where you’ll have extreme difficulty drifting off to sleep with your mind so preoccupied with other things.
Even if your anxiety manages to die down, it burns through a lot of your energy, which isn’t always helpful when you’re fighting the urge to doze off in the middle of the day, essentially messing with your body clock. Depression can also have a dampening effect on the body clock, with sufferers often feeling chronically fatigued.
In the case of overwhelming anxiety attacks, chances are your heartbeat starts pounding like a jackhammer, breathing becomes laborious, leading to hyperventilating, sometimes putting you at risk of collapsing. And because anxiety can be all-consuming, there is always the risk of your whole body going through its fair share of aches and pains as a side effect. You can’t necessarily explain what’s caused them, but you can feel them resonating all over your body.
Anxiety and depression both have the capacity to have lifelong implications. For example, the Mental Health Foundation reported that 67% of people experiencing depression have an increased risk of death from heart disease. Even if you managing to win the battle for your mental health, you could still have a war to deal with in the form of the physical ailments bought on by it.
There are a few ways you can deal with shorts bursts of anxiety. Sometimes, it may be a case of having something to draw your attention to – like a small handheld object. In other scenarios, you could count numbers to yourself to ensure you properly pace yourself and get your breathing under control, most notably breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
It can also be repeating a series of key words to yourself that you associate with positive memories i.e. your favourite films, to name but a few. Introducing positive thoughts to an anxious mind can help prevent an attack from escalating to the point where physical symptoms rear their ugly head. Can be whatever subject you feel puts you at ease. Even reciting a Shakespearean monologue if you feel it helps! Unfortunately, I can’t call upon that example on account of atrocious attention span.
One method I would highly recommend is yoga. The practice of yoga offers you a great deal of self-control over your body, more than you possibly realize and a mixture of stretching and breathing exercises can help bring your body back into sync the way you want it to. I recently undertook a yoga that has since helped me keep my anxiety in check (see here for more details). Working anxiety out of your system is much like relieving the pressure on a boiler, letting it flow out at a steady and calm pace…although the metaphor doesn’t mean you’ll need a plumber to get through anxiety(!)
Depression can be a difficult beast to tackle, especially if it’s chronic. Some people just wake up one day and feeling completely deflated, any established meaning for simple tasks gone. However, there are some universal tips. If you feel constantly depressed, you need to immerse yourself in distractions. Could be going out on a shopping trip, could be going to the cinema or better yet, engaging socially with friends and family. That last one can be quite difficult, considering when we’re depressed, we definitely don’t feel like we want to be the life and soul of a party. But if you’re depressed and left alone to your own devices, you’ll have more time to focus on those dark, intrusive thoughts, turning them over and over in your head. It can be difficult, and depression wants to pull you back into the pit, but throwing yourself into a group of people (not literally, that would probably send the wrong message) will give you the chance to find something positive to cling onto.
When you feel paranoia, anxiety, or self-doubt sweeping through your head, you may tell yourself, “It’s all in your head.” And that’s true… at first. But overtime, poor mental health can grow through the body like a parasite, potential damaging your physicality and endangering your life. Which is why when we are trying to help people experiencing poor mental health, we need to be conscious about the physical side effects of the various conditions.
If you enjoyed this article, why don’t you check out the other blogs in the Mental Health Awareness Week Series: