"Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." The World Health Organization
Although stigmas still exist about mental health, whether you have been diagnosed and have a treatment plan or otherwise, mental illness can cause emotional, physical, and social problems for those who suffer from them.
Countless studies explain the physical changes our bodies undergo when we experience anxiety or stress, and they prove that everything that goes through our minds can affect our bodies if we do not know how to self-regulate.
Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior
One common example of this response is our body's reactions to stress. Stress is a natural mechanism activated in the face of challenging or highly demanding situations. It can be healthy in adequate amounts to help us carry out tasks with improved alertness, focus, and concentration.
However, when stress is prolonged, other systems in our body begin to be compromised. Stress lowers our immune system, increasing our risk of contracting diseases. Hormonal changes can also occur, affecting the menstrual cycle in women. The liver begins to secrete high amounts of glucose into the bloodstream, increasing the possibility of contracting type 2 diabetes, or complicating the condition if you already have it. When stressed, our bodies prioritize circulation to other areas such as the muscles, causing some of the blood vessels that allow the stomach to contract, and this reduction of blood in the stomach is what can cause colitis problems, among other digestive conditions. Additionally, when we suffer from stress, the heart is pushed to work overtime. Higher heart rates and blood pressure increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. There are also side effects of stress that are often attributed to other factors: muscle tension, headaches, back pain, shoulder pain, and more.
Prioritizing Mental Health
Unfortunately, many people still put mental health last or believe that mental illnesses go away with time, ignoring all the complications this can cause in the long term.
When a person suffers from a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, the risk of developing chronic diseases increases due to other coping factors, such as increased consumption of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, junk food, changes in sleep and appetite, and a lack of motivation that could lead to little or no movement. And if you do have the disease, your treatment could be affected if you do not follow the routine your doctor has set up for all these signs.
It is necessary to understand that when we talk about a mental illness, the cure is not always to "think positively," because when the diagnosis is present, several neurological processes are affected, and sometimes prescribed medication is the only thing that will help to regulate its function. The treatment will depend on the severity of the problem.
Sometimes, adopting positive thoughts and changing perspectives can help when the problem is minor. Other times, therapy and the help of a licensed professional are necessary to get to the root of the condition. Sometimes the person will need both the help of a therapist and drug treatment to manage their condition.
Mental illnesses can get out of our control if we do not ask for help on time or if we do not work on techniques to self-regulate. There is no trick or magic cure that makes us avoid stressors or situations that cause us sadness or anxiety in life. However, it is our responsibility to work with our thoughts and emotions so that they do not overtake us physically, emotionally, or socially. For this, there are different techniques that will help us clear our minds: meditation, deep breathing, yoga, exercise, prayer, and reading, among other methods. It is necessary to dedicate at least 15 minutes of the day to ourselves.
There is no way to be healthy without prioritizing mental health. Everything in our being is connected and the imbalance of one area will always affect the others. To be well, it is necessary to pay attention to the signs or indicators that show that something is not right.
Identifying the Signs
• Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or "empty"
• Hopelessness or pessimism
• Irritability, frustration, or restlessness
• Guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities and hobbies
• Fatigue, decreased energy or feeling sluggish
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping, waking up early in the morning or sleeping too much
• Unplanned changes in appetite or weight
• Aches and pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that have no apparent physical cause or are not relieved by treatment
• Suicide attempts or thoughts about death or suicide
• Constant worry
• Feelings of nervousness
• Restlessness or difficulty relaxing
• Concentration problems
• Having difficulty falling or staying asleep
• Constant tiredness
• Headaches, muscle, or stomach aches
• Have tremors or tics (nervous movements)
• Nerves and irritability
• Heavy sweating, dizziness, or shortness of breath
• Diarrhea, or constipation
• Bad memory
• Frequent aches and pains
• Lack of energy or concentration
• Sexual problems
• Tense neck or jaw
• Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
• Upset stomach
• Using alcohol or drugs to unwind
• Weight loss or gain
This month is dedicated to Mental Health Awareness. Help us by sharing and promoting the importance of mental health and breaking the stigma. You cannot have complete wellness without mental health.
If you need help, please reach out to an Esperança team member and we will gladly offer you a list of resources and contacts to support you. You are not alone. Approximately 264 million people in the world are living with depression (Mental Health 2021). Anxiety is one of the most common diagnoses, affecting 40 million adults (18+) each year (ADAA). So, if you know someone who is currently living with this problem or any other conflict, seek help. Let's raise awareness for a better quality of life.