Maintaining your mental health is a critical component to living a full and healthy life. But did you know that your mental health is directly connected to your body? Research has shown that when we experience hardships that lead to psychological distress, that distress can get into our biology and affect our physical health. Likewise, when we deal with daily physical challenges, like autoimmune and other chronic illnesses, those physical difficulties can cause us psychological distress. Many times physical pain, fatigue, cognitive “fogs”, or motor or gait difficulties can lead to depression, anxiety, and other distress. And vice versa, when we feel sad or anxious, our bodies may respond unkindly.
What’s more, many people do not understand how our physical and mental health are interwoven, and this can lead to unintentionally unsupportive comments (e.g., “You look just fine to me”), or a misunderstanding of our treatment needs (e.g., “Why do you need to go to therapy for a chronic health condition?”). This often adds to distress by creating feelings of guilt, burden, or loneliness (it may feel like no one understands what you are going through).
For all of us, but especially those of us with autoimmune or other chronic illness, our psychological and physical wellness are intimately connected. There are strategies that can help promote physical and mental wellness:
1. Physical Activity you Love
Sometimes the gym is boring. Sometimes it hurts to walk. Physical activity is critical to our mental wellbeing – it reduces stress, depression, anxiety, and even releases endorphins that make us feel good. But we have to find activities that work for our bodies, our personalities, our schedules, and our abilities. That may mean gardening, or going out on a canoe, or swimming, or doing some household chores. Let it look different for you – and find something you love.
2. Finding Support (Groups)
Sometimes we need to talk to others who “get it”. Support groups can be a wonderful way to connect with those who have similar physical and emotional health needs, who understand what you mean when you describe fatigue, or “get it” when you discuss feeling guilt about your ability to engage an activity.
3. Trusting your Body (and your Mind)
Trust yourself. If your body is speaking to you, it means something. If you’re feeling emotional, it means something. Often, our minds and bodies alert us to distress long before we become “conscious” that there is something going on. Trusting yourself allows you to respond to your emotional and physical needs in a timely manner.
4. Mental Health in your (Physical) Medical Care
It is so easy when dealing with something physical to ignore all else. Counseling or psychotherapy can feel like yet another thing on the to-do list, or like admitting you “can’t handle it”. However, research shows that patients who include mental health in their overall physical healthcare are happier, healthier, have fewer physical complications, and report higher quality of life. Your emotional wellness matters, and it should be included as a priority in your overall care.
Therapists at Auburn Psychological Wellness Center work with patients and their care-partners to assist in one of the most critical components of wellness – the connection between physical and mental health. We understand this important connection, and are committed to treatment approaches that address your overall wellness needs. If you would like to discuss how your physical and mental health goals connect with one of our APWC counselors, you can request an appointment here.