More and more we are hearing high-profile people talk about protecting their mental health. Whether it’s a celebrity who deliberately takes a break from social media, an Olympic gymnast who says they need to step back from competition, or a U.S. senator who takes time off work for mental health care, these conversations are grabbing headlines - and the public’s attention. A big part of this conversation has been the mind-body connection, or how mental health issues can also affect a person’s physical health. Let’s look at what people can do to maintain the balance between their mental and physical health.
The mind-body connection. Just how connected are a person’s mental and physical health? More than most people realize. Psychosomatic medicine is a concept that looks at how the mind and body can work together to impact a person’s health, said Dr. William Beecroft, medical director of behavioral health for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network.
For example, people living in a stressful environment have a higher likelihood of developing cardiac issues, like heart attacks. Others who have respiratory issues tend to have more anxiety issues, and these are connected.
“Our minds and our bodies are interconnected,” Beecroft said. “Many of our athletes and other individuals, even actors and many celebrities in our society, have really recognized that it’s OK to be able to talk about this in public. And it’s really OK to be able to show that they’ve been able to make a successful transition when they do pay attention to their mind and body connection together.”
Warning signs that your mind-body connection is unbalanced. There are all kinds of things that can throw your mental and physical health connection off-balance. Chronic illness, injuries, financial stress, issues at work or in your relationships can all tip the scales into the off-kilter zone. Here are some of the warning signs that your mental-physical connection can be unbalanced:
- Forgetting birthdays, anniversaries or important appointments
- Not being able to finish tasks
- Becoming easily distracted
- Not finding enjoyment in things you usually like
- Obsessing about a source of stress in your life
- Difficulty eating
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
How negativity can affect your health. Getting stuck in negative thought patterns over stressful situations can also impact your physical health. We may recognize these times when mental burdens begin to feel like a physical weight. Tense shoulder muscles, headaches, fidgeting are all physical signs of mental stress. Being able to set negativity aside and move forward is an important skill to have for both a person’s mental and physical health.
Strategies for regaining and maintaining balance. The good news is, there are simple steps you can take to regain your mental-physical balance. While nothing may be an overnight fix, Beecroft said there are a few things you can do to put yourself on a path to evening out any imbalance. These include:
- Get moving for at least a half hour a day, five days a week. This could be walking, biking, swimming or any physical activity. “It does release chemicals in our brain that are really helping us to be calmer,” he said.
- If you drink alcohol, keep the consumption moderate.
- Eat foods that are good for you, and avoid food that will worsen stress, like too much caffeine.
- Practice some kind of mindfulness for up to 10 minutes each day. This can be whatever you are comfortable with: prayer, seated meditation or walking meditation.
Want to learn more about the mind-body connect? Listen to this episode of “A Healthier Michigan Podcast” featuring a conversation with Dr. William Beecroft, medical director of behavioral health for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network.
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