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Caring for Your Physical and Mental Health

May 22, 2019 | Rachel Velishek, LPCC

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We all know a person, love a person or are ourselves a person who has experienced chronic health challenges such as cancer, heart disease, chronic pain, diabetes, mental illness, and more. It is not uncommon for mental illness and chronic conditions to co-occur. What we have learned is that an individual’s underlying environment plays a significant role in the development of both physical and mental health conditions.

Caring for mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being and mental illnesses are common and treatable. So much of what we do physically impacts us mentally – it’s important to pay attention to both your physical health and your mental health in order to achieve overall wellness and set you on a path to recovery.

A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions, as well as chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also help people recover from these conditions. For those dealing with a chronic health condition and the people who care for them, it can be especially important to focus on mental health. When dealing with dueling diagnoses, focusing on both physical and mental health concerns can be daunting – but it is critically important in achieving overall wellness.

In May 2018, Mental Health America (MHA) developed materials that were seen and used by over 30 million people with more than 16,000 entities downloading the Mental Health America Tool Kit. This free toolkit is what I have used to gather all the referenced information about the correlation between mental health and physical health. Mental Health America has also developed a series of fact sheets to help people understand how their lifestyle affects their health. This information deserves awareness. Minimizing the influence physical has on mental, and environment has on both is similar to minimizing the influence smoking has on respiratory problems, or that second-hand smoke in a child’s home environment has on health and well-being. Agree or disagree, it is all related. Long-term progress cannot be achieved if you only focus on one aspect and ignore the other.

This May, Mental Health America has expanded its focus to raising awareness about the connection between physical health and mental health with the theme #4Mind4Body. Mental Health America is exploring the topics of animal companionship, spirituality and religion, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness.

I have included brief excerpts from the referenced Mental Health America toolkit in order to increase understanding and awareness of the correlation between physical health, mental health, and general well-being.

Animal Companionship can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to recover from illnesses. Almost 70 percent of U.S households own a pet. Of households with a pet, 80 percent believe their pets bring them happiness and emotional support, 55 percent believe their pets reduce anxiety and depression, and 66 percent believe their pets relieve stress. For people receiving treatment for mental illnesses, animal-assisted interventions reduce anger, depression and general distress while improving the ability to socialize.

Spirituality and religion. Regardless of whether you rely on meditation, yoga, or religion, caring for your soul is an important part of taking care of yourself that can improve physical and mental health along the way. Spiritual practices like meditation have been linked to increased levels of feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins; and decreased levels of cortisol and noradrenaline which have been associated with stress. One study found that people who attended religious services monthly showed a 22 percent lower risk of depression. U.S military veterans who identified themselves as highly religious or spiritual showed high levels of gratitude, purpose in life, and post-traumatic growth, and a lower risk of depression, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol abuse than their less or non-spiritual/religious peers. In a study of people receiving treatment at a mental health facility, more than 80 percent used religious beliefs or activities to cope with daily difficulties or frustrations, 65 percent reported that religion helped them to cope with symptom severity, and 30 percent indicated that religion gave them a purpose to keep living.

Humor. Finding humor in the circumstances of life can lift moods with laughter and help people to better deal with and overcome difficult experiences. When we laugh, levels of stress hormones decrease. Stress and its hormones can do a lot of damage to the mind and body over time. Since humor and laughter reduce the amounts of these hormones, it has also been shown that humor can help reduce the risk of blood clots, heart conditions, and other stress-related diseases. Endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain blockers, are released when we laugh. Humor has the potential benefit to improve mood and relieve anxiety, reduce job burnout, improve interactions with others, and contribute to a stronger immune system.

Work-life balance is important. Work allows you to provide for yourself and your family while serving a purpose in the community, but it can take over your life and can negatively affect your health. Almost 40 percent of full-time employed adults in the U.S. reported working at least 50 hours a week, and 18 percent work 60 hours or more. Over 75 percent of people are afraid of getting punished for taking a day off to attend to their mental health. More than two-thirds of people have had their sleep negatively affected by workplace issues. Working overtime increases the likelihood of having symptoms of depression especially in men. Poor work-life balance increases your risk of developing health conditions like sleep problems, digestive disorders, and mental health problems. This is especially true for people who work longer shifts or on nights and weekends. Workplace burnout and stress as a result of not caring for mental and physical health is estimated to cost as much as $190 billion per year in health care spending in the U.S.

Social connections and recreation. Finding other people to relate to and doing things that bring you enjoyment are great ways to improve your mood and overall mental health. Being lonely can cause the same amount of damage to your lifespan as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is more dangerous to health than obesity. People with strong social relationships are 50 percent more likely to live longer. Adolescents who participate in sports have lower odds of suffering from depression or thinking about suicide, likely because sports increase self-esteem and social support. Taking a vacation can help you to feel happier and less stressed for a while.

Mental Health America and Fisher Titus Behavioral Health wants everyone to know that mental illnesses are real, and recovery is always the goal. Living a healthy lifestyle may not be easy but it can be achieved by gradually making small changes and building on those successes. Finding the balance between work and play, the ups and downs of life, and physical health and mental health, can help you on the path towards focusing on #4Mind4Body. For more information, mentalhealthamerica.net/may

Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.