The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
We often think of our mind and body as separate, but they are more interconnected than we can imagine. For example, did you know that the immune system being a key marker of your physical health is also a bridge between one’s physical and mental wellbeing? Stress, especially the chronic type triggers an immune response within the brain that usually leads to depression. In turn, this weakens the immune system leading to a cycle of degradation.
Social well-being too has a significant impact on our mental and physical health. When we interact with people the quality of our relationships affects our mental and physical health and vice versa.
Impact Of Mental Conditions On Physical Health
Mental health problems always come with varying degrees of physical manifestations. Some may be easily curable while others may take longer.
Depression comes with headaches, fatigue and digestive problems. Other symptoms can include insomnia, restlessness and difficulty concentrating. Fatigue from mental illness can also interfere with basic hygiene increasing vulnerability to disease. A weakened immune system can also accelerate the severity of allergies.
In the case of anxiety, the risk of heart attack rises 9.5 fold in the following two hours. While youth are generally away from having to worry about heart issues, anger and anxiety involved in impulse control disorders can negatively affect their hearts.
Mental health conditions also make dealing with a chronic illness more difficult.
How Does Physical Health Affect Mental Well-Being?
Being diagnosed with a serious disease like cancer or suffering from a heart attack can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Around one-third of people with serious medical conditions have symptoms of depression, such as low mood, sleep problems, and a loss of interest in activities.
Physical conditions that make one dependent on others foster a feeling of inadequacy that further leads them into depression.
Psoriasis, a dermatological condition characterised by painful red sores on the skin, is associated with acute stress and depression. Individuals with psoriasis experience emotional and psychological distress that has adverse effects on their overall health and quality of life.
The Social Factor
Being socially healthy means being able to make positive relationships and acquire the ability to adapt to different social situations and act accordingly. Our social relationships affect our perspective on life and change our outlook.
Research suggests that strong social ties are linked to a longer life. Strong, healthy relationships can also help strengthen your immune system which helps one recover from diseases. In contrast, loneliness and social isolation lead to poorer health, depression, and an increased risk of early death. It can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, high blood pressure, and increase stress. Loneliness is also a risk factor for antisocial behaviour, depression and in extreme cases, suicide. On the contrary, a bigger and deeper social circle helps reduce stress and heart-related risks. We all know the power of the human touch, and how it catalyses the release of good chemicals that come with diverse, long-lasting benefits.
If you’re physically unfit your health will not allow you to be as much around people as you would otherwise be. Similarly, fatigue and low motivation due to mental illness will discourage you to involve yourself with people and you would be trapped in this cycle.
In this pandemic era, our social interactions were largely limited to screens and phones. According to a study published in the Lancet, depression and anxiety rose by 35% during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The findings of the latest National Family Health Survey 2019-21 reveal that Indians have become more obese, hypertensive, and prone to diabetes. The data conveys it all.
In these last two years, we have realised the importance of different aspects of our health. Looking at the brighter side, this pandemic was probably a blessing in disguise. It made us more aware of how our choices affect our lives. We have come to value the presence of people around us. Hope the learnings stay with us and help us improve our health and that of others too.
5 Tips To Take Care Of Your Health In A Holistic Manner
1. Keep yourself active
Exercise keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy. It also releases chemicals in the brain that elevate your mood. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep and feel better.
Exercising doesn’t just mean doing sport or going to the gym. Walks in the park, gardening or housework can also keep you active. Try to include a physical activity that you enjoy in your regular routine. Doing an activity you like probably means you’re good at it and achieving something boosts your self-esteem and helps beat stress. Outdoor activities also give you an opportunity to engage with people and establish relationships. Those small talks or smiles go a long way in keeping you happy.
2. Eat Well
There are strong links between what we eat and how we feel. There are few items like caffeine and sugar that have immediate effects while others may have a long-lasting effect on your mental health. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A good diet strengthens your immunity and we have already established how essential it is to have a healthy and well-functioning immune system to stay fit in all ways.
3. Avoid Alcohol And Caffeine
While limited consumption of alcohol or caffeine is not that harmful, regular intake can adversely affect us. We often drink alcohol and caffeine to change our mood but we must realise that the effect is only temporary. Apart from the damage they do to our body, it increases dependency and you would need an increasing quantity each time to feel the same short-term boost. Both alcohol and caffeine can cause health problems, such as restlessness, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, increased heart rate, dehydration and anxiety. Excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems and cancer of various kinds.
These side effects make one socially unwelcoming and can affect the ability to channelise emotions that affect social relationships. Furthermore, alcohol addiction is frowned upon by many in society.
4. Give Yourself Some Break
A slight change is good for your health. It could be a half-hour lunch break at work or a weekend exploring somewhere new or not doing anything at all one day.
Listen to your body. If you’re tired, give yourself time off. Take a good nap. Without good sleep, our mental health suffers and our concentration goes downhill. Lack of rest makes one suffer from chronic tiredness, slows down one’s reflexes and responses and impairs decision making and judgement. You may also suffer from sore or aching muscles. The willingness to socially interact will drop to a negligible level and it may affect your personal relationships. Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other ones like irritability and lack of motivation.
So remember to give your body the treatment it deserves.
5. Talk About Your Feelings
Talking about your feelings helps you stay mentally healthy. It’s part of taking charge of your well-being. Just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same.
We all get tired or feel overwhelmed. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. And again, you asking for help opens doors for others as well. It intensifies the depth of your social connection and has a great impact on your physical health too.