Your mental health and physical health might be more connected than you think. Envision your mental health and your physical health as two sides of a shiny new coin. On the mental health side is your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Flip it over, and you and you will find your physical well-being. This includes things like your genetics and lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise. Each side might seem uniquely different and have isolated needs at first glance, but when we look at them a bit closer, we see just how related they are to one another. No matter how hard you try, you cannot separate one side of the coin from the other. What happens when we keep one side shiny and clean, and the other side becomes dirty and dull?
In the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic has dealt life a blow as we know it. As we entered the new decade of 2020, pandemics were indeed not on our radar, and terms such as social-distancing, flatten the curve, and self-quarantine was not rolling off the tongues of the masses. But now, we feel a direct threat to our physical health. Daily counts of those infected are updated hour by hour on our news channels, and millions of Americans are at risk of catching it before all is said and done.
We have joined a new normal. We all know what taking care of our physical health looks like. We obsessively wash our hands for thirty seconds in hot water, we wear masks and gloves outside the home when we need to buy essentials, and we obsess over every cough, sneeze, and body ache. We think back if we may have had exposure during an outing, and we always wonder if we are coming down with the coronavirus. Many of us try to focus on staying healthy in other ways, as well. We practice social distancing. We take care to eat healthy immune fighting foods, including foods high in anti-oxidants and fresh fruits and vegetables. We try to get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep at night, and we try to walk or get some other form of exercise every day. We want to feel safe, and by focusing on the tangible, we have a sense of control over our lives and well-being. This feels comforting and good.
But what about our mental health? Are we taking time to focus on this all too neglected aspect of total health? Do we even have the tools, resources, and know-how to take care of it. What happens when we do neglect it? Will it make us sick in other ways, not directly related to the coronavirus.
Anxiety and stress are at an all-time high. Not only are we scared of ourselves and loved ones getting sick, but many of us are juggling the pressures of remote work while tending to our children’s needs and schooling. Some of us have lost our jobs, and the future economy seems so uncertain. Some of us, our devastated, grieving the loss of a loved one. Still, many of us cannot even pinpoint why we are feeling so stressed and on edge.
We are feeling anxiety and stress, not just mentally but physically as well. For many of us, this feeling of fear is new or so unpleasant that we might need a suppressor to “talk” ourselves out of our anxiety. Holding emotions in can be very dangerous to our health in the long run. Acute stress can turn into chronic stress, and chronic stress can decrease our life span.
Recognizing the Physical Effects of Anxiety Anxiety and depression look different in different people. Some people function so well we might be surprised to learn they are even suffering from anxiety or other emotional challenges. It is essential to recognize the physical effects of stress because when we can recognize and acknowledge the physical symptoms, it is easier to control them moving forward.
Short term physical symptoms include:
Sense of impending doom
Racing heart or heart palpitations
Feelings of panic
Loss of appetite
Studies have shown that longer-term impacts of stress and anxiety on physical health can include:
Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
Weakened Immune Systems
The good news is that once we understand what anxiety looks and feels like, there are simple steps that we can take to reduce the symptoms and regain control over our life.
Here are three tips to get us started:
Be Mindful of Trigger Events A trigger event is an experience that draws us back in time to an unpleasant thought, feeling, or experience. Be aware of what is causing the physical symptoms of anxiety in your day to day life. Remember that you have the power and control to disconnect from many things that bring you. It may help disconnect from the constant news cycle on the television, social media, or your smartphone. Watch something on tv that brings you pleasure and a sense of calm and relaxation, or curl up with a good book instead.
Make Friends With Your Fear It is essential to recognize that the feelings and emotions you are experiencing are normal and valid. Pandemics and the uncertainty that comes with them are scary. Remember, you are not a superhero, and understanding your feelings is a big part of feeling better. Remember analysis over paralysis. Simply put, fear is not your enemy. It is a natural response to scary things we can’t control or don’t fully understand. Remember, fear feeds itself. Instead of letting your thoughts spiral out of control and get the better of you, think about what a healthy relationship with your anxiety looks like. Sit in a calm setting and write a list of what you are fearful of. Putting your fears on paper can allow reframing your thinking and the pause you need to think about what you are terrified of.
Focus On The Here and Now Focusing on what you are missing can make you feel depressed. Looking too far into the future can make you feel anxious. But being in the present is enjoyable. Keeping your thoughts and mind in the present makes you feel centered and relaxed. Structure and routine are vital to keeping you grounded and focused. Try to create a daily schedule that includes little things that bring you joy and calm. Try that new recipe. Read that book you have been longing to read. Do something meditative like a puzzle or a craft. Up until now, our lives have likely been so busy. Appreciate the pause and allow yourself to focus on the now.