We speak often about the importance of addressing mental health and the importance of physical health, but it’s rare that we talk about the infinite ways in which the two are connected. Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions. The body functions as a whole unit, mind body spirit. Therefore, any type of dysfunction will throw off other parts of the system. This means when addressing any physical dysfunction, it’s important to look into the emotional side of things as well.
What is Mental Health?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as the state of well-being where every individual realizes his or her own potential, manages the normal stresses of life, works productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to her or his community.
Most people think of mental health as the absence of diagnosable disorders, but mental health is best represented as a continuum. On one end of the spectrum are people who exhibit active resilience and are capable of taking life’s uncertainties in stride. On the other end of the spectrum are individuals whose disorders cause severe impact on daily functioning. If someone falls in the center of the spectrum, they would likely describe their mental health as “fine.”
It’s possible, even common, for people to fall somewhere in the middle. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed condition and feel you function well enough in your day-to-day life, you may lack the resources to cope with a sudden change.
What is Physical Health?
When we talk about health and wellness, we often pay more attention to physical health over mental health. Parents and guardians pour a lot of energy into ensuring kids grow up physically healthy, but they may not have a complete picture of what physical health entails. Physical health has two central components which are nutrition and activity.
How Are They Linked?
We speak about mental health and physical health as if they are separate entities, when in reality, they are interwoven. Physical ailments can affect mental health just as much as mental health struggles can impact our physical health. Some examples of this are:
Depression and Immunity
Depression is the most common mental disorder in the United States and has a greater impact than just on mood and motivation. It can directly affect the immune system by suppressing T cell responses to viruses and bacteria, making it easier to get sick and stay sick for longer. A weakened immune system can also lead to a jump in the severity of allergies or asthma. Another physical symptom of depression is fatigue. A person who suffers with depression or anxiety can feel physically exhausted which greatly impacts their quality of life and productivity. It’s dangerous when people assume anxiety and depression are just “in your head” when they are heavily linked to physical health as well. People with this symptom can be branded as “lazy” by those who choose to ignore the mind body connection, which will only exacerbate the mental struggles that people face (Hillside 2020).
Anger, Anxiety, and Heart Health
Feelings of anxiety and anger have physical responses such as elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure. Experiencing this to a heightened extent or on a regular basis can greatly impact heart health. In an Australian study led by Dr. Thomas Buckley, they found that in the two hours following a bout of intense anger a person’s risk of heart attack becomes 8.5 times higher. In the case of anxiety, the risk of heart attack rises 9.5 fold in the following two hours. While young people are generally a long way away from having to worry about heart attacks, anger and anxiety involved in impulse control disorders can negatively affect their growing hearts as well.
Trauma and Chronic Pain
Studies have shown that chronic pain might not only be caused by physical injury but also by stress and emotional issues. In particular, people who have experienced trauma and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are often at a higher risk to develop chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as prolonged physical pain that lasts for longer than the natural healing process should allow. This pain might stem from injuries, inflammation, or neuralgias and neuropathies (disorders of the nerves), but some people suffer in the absence of any of these conditions.
How MFR Can Help
Your body remembers everything. Your brain has the ability to repress and block out certain memories, but your body holds onto these memories without you even realizing it! Whether it be physical or mental trauma, your body creates tension and your fascia becomes dehydrated causing stiffness and tightness which causes pain.
If you’re interested in MFR, or have any questions, contact us today!
Babbel, Susanne. “The Connections Between Emotional Stress, Trauma and Physical Pain.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 8 Apr. 2010, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/somatic-psychology/201004/the-connections-between-emotional-stress-trauma-and-physical-pain.
Hillside. “How Mental Health and Physical Health Are Linked.” Hillside, 28 Oct. 2020, hside.org/link-between-physical-and-mental-health/.
Papa, Jessica L. Conquering Mystery Pain: How Myofascial Release Can Help Heal You! 2019.