Anxiety and depression does not only affect your mind. Mental health can truly affect every single aspect of your life including your job, your relationships, your home, your finances, your physical health, and more. But often times, the opposite is also true. Every one of the things I just mentioned can also trigger anxiety and depression. For the next couple of weeks I want to take some time to look at these cycles, how they work, and how you can break them. For now, let’s talk about our physical health.
How Physical Health Affects Mental Health
Physical problems can affect our minds in a lot of ways. If you are in pain, for instance, you are bound to be more irritable. If you are irritable, you may find yourself feeling upset with yourself for being so short with your loved ones. You may begin to feel guilty, or even unworthy of their love. These thoughts, in addition to the pain, may make it more difficult to sleep at night which could very well result in being even more mentally unstable the next day. The lack of sleep caused by anxiety caused by your physical pain could lead to more physical problems and the cycle just continues indefinitely. Here are just a few ways that physical health can affect mental health:
- Pain leads to irritability.
- Pain leads to obsessions such as seeking out a cause.
- Lack of vitamins/minerals can lead to mood changes.
- A scary diagnosis such as that of cancer can lead to feelings of despair (depression) or fears of dying (anxiety).
- Excess weight can cause us to look down on ourselves and even fall into isolation due to fear of what others will say/think.
- Guilt may arise when we have to say no because of physical limitations.
How Mental Health Affects Physical Health
There has been a lot more research on this than on the previous topic. Mental health has a HUGE role in our physical health. The following are some of the physical effects of anxiety and depression:
- High Heart Rate
- Muscle Pain
- Eating Disorders
- Stomach Ulcers
- Heart Disease
- Decreased Life Span
- And So Much More!
There are so many different scenarios that could be used to illustrate how this dangerous cycle works, but I am just going to focus on the story of someone I know who battled with depression. For sake of anonymity let’s call him Charlie.
Charlie was a hard working dad of three. He had always had somewhat of a negative view on life, but had no diagnosis to speak of. The day he lost his job, however, his world turned upside down. He was afraid. How could he take care of his family? He was older and didn’t have a lot of skills and wasn’t sure if he would be able to secure a good paying job. Application after application was put in with no call backs. He and his wife applied for government assistance but were denied because he had too many assets. The asset in question was nearly 100 acres that had been in his family for generations. He couldn’t part with it.
As these things mulled over and over again in his mind, he became seriously depressed. He stopped mowing his lawn and began sitting in his chair for hours on end. Sleeping became a thing of the past. He attended church less and less frequently. Over time, this stress began affecting his physical health. He developed such severe back pain he could barely even walk. Desperate for help, he went to a free clinic in the area, but medication and physical therapy did nothing to relieve the severe pain he was experiencing.
He felt horrible for his family. How could he let them go without groceries? What if they lost their home? Unemployment was running out and he couldn’t possibly go back to work with the level of pain he was in. In despair, he began to consider that his wife and children may be able to receive more help if he were no longer in the picture. Thankfully, his wife saw him as he was getting the pistol out of its case. That was the moment he decided he needed help.
A local pastor gave him the courage he needed to talk with a medical professional and get some medication to help his depression. He regained enough of his strength (both physically and mentally) that he was able to find a very part-time job delivering newspapers to local businesses. He often times loaded his truck while sitting because the pain to stand was too much. But over time, his pain lessened. He regained his abilities to provide for his family. He saw a glimmer of hope and he continued to recover. Within a year or so, his pain was under control enough to allow him to return to full-time work. He was able to stop taking the anti-depressants and began to truly reclaim the smile he had had before losing his job.
Understanding The Cycle
What Charlie experienced is quite common. It is the cycle between physical and mental illness. People who suffer from emotional stress, anxiety, or depression, often find themselves with physical problems as a result. Those physical problems, however, make it more difficult to do the things that have to be done which generally makes the person more stressed. And so, the next thing you know, you have emotional pain causing physical pain which causes more emotional pain which causes more physical pain. And eventually it gets to a point that you don’t even know what’s going on and you feel completely trapped. You can’t fix your mental health because your physical health is so poor, but you are afraid or unmotivated to address your physical health.
How To Break The Cycle
If you are reading this and say, “Yeah, that’s me. I’m stuck here. How do I get out?” Know you’re not stuck. You CAN get out! But I can’t tell you exactly how to do that. I can, however, give you some guidance on how to help yourself.
Understanding Your Personal Cycle
The first step is to spend some time analyzing your cycle. Can you figure out what occurred first? Did it start with a physical problem or a mental one? I want to make sure to mention here, this isn’t just about illness or pain. It could be about any type of physical problem: a lack of energy, obesity, dental pain, or just about anything. It’s absolutely amazing how many areas of our life stress can affect.
Once you recognize the cycle you’re in, spend some thinking about (or even writing down) your feelings about it. What would life look like if those physical problems didn’t exist? How does the physical problem make you feel? How does your mental health affect the physical? If your mental health was perfect, how would you address the physical problem(s)? How would you address the mental health problems if it wasn’t for the physical problems?
“If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got”
Have you heard that quote before? It’s one of my favorites because it’s so very true for me. I can’t tell you how many times I have said I want to do better but without doing something different, it’s never going to happen. In the story above, Charlie broke his downward cycle in three different ways. He talked to a pastor about his feelings, he got medical help, and he got a job.
Obviously those steps might not be the exact same for you and your situation. So now is when you need to figure out some steps you can take to do something different. Don’t get drastic. If you do, you probably won’t stick with it. Here are a few general suggestions that I believe would help most people.
See a Medical Doctor
I understand, some people (like me) have a lot of anxiety regarding medical professionals. Perhaps it’s a fear of being told you have an awful disease. Maybe you’re afraid of the financial side of medical care. Maybe you’re just plain afraid of doctors. But regardless of the reason, I strongly suggest you go to a doctor and ask for a blood test to rule out deficiencies in vitamins or minerals. Find out about your blood pressure, heart rate, and so on. If you’re not comfortable telling them about every aspect of your struggles, that’s perfectly okay. Start with just asking for a full blood panel and then see if you can move on from there. If you’re comfortable enough to ask for help with your mental health as well, feel free to do so!
Okay, so I need to practice what I preach here, but seriously, exercise is known to do more than just help your physical body. I understand not everyone can run a 5K (I sure can’t) but find something you can do and commit to it every day. If you can walk one lap around your house, do it! Is five minutes stretching all you can handle? Commit to doing it daily! If the best you can do is walking to the kitchen and back, commit to making one extra trip every morning and then gradually increase that as you’re able.
Commit To Something With A Schedule
For me, this was signing my kids up for sports but there’s a ton of options here. The fact is, when you’re struggling with mental health and/or physical health problems, it is so easy to stay inside and isolate yourself. But that will only make it worse. So find something that you can commit to and that others will hold you accountable for. Here are a couple examples:
- Teach or assist in a Sunday School class or church nursery
- Agree to bring an elderly member of your community a meal twice a week (and let them know which days so they know when you’re coming)
- Enroll your children in some form of program
- Start a playgroup at your local park.
Have you noticed any cycles in regards to your anxiety or depression? What are you doing to break them?
If you enjoyed this post, make sure to check out the rest of the series via these links and share with your friends!