Q. I suffer from recurring headaches and backaches. Is there a connection between physical and mental health?
A. Our mental and physical health are fundamentally linked. You cannot have good physical health without good mental health. Poor mental health does not allow you to think clearly, make good decisions, or fight disease. Over time, ignoring your own mental health can lead to physical health issues such as gastrointestinal issues and a weakened immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression and anxiety are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and heightened blood pressure. Depression and anxiety can also cause sleeping problems and body aches due to issues in the signaling pathways of the brain.
If we are not authentic to ourselves, which means allowing ourselves to experience our feelings and working through them, we can get physically sick. Did you know that high stress levels disrupt the immune system? That means if you do not have effective ways to cope with your stress or if you ignore your emotions, it will affect the physiology of your body.
This can look different for every individual.
Constant stress and anxiety lead to disconnection from oneself. Why do we allow ourselves to get so disconnected? Because sometimes it is too painful to feel. If your feelings are too hard to deal with and you do not know how to cope with them, you will withdraw so you don’t have to deal with those emotions.
The effects of ignoring our emotions may well end up showing up in other areas of our bodies: It can be back or neck pain that suddenly shows up, migraines that don’t seem to go away, and high blood pressure that needs medication.
An example of this might be a mother who puts stress on herself by worrying about her family. She wants the best for everyone and will do everything in her power to ensure their wellbeing. This can lead to tension in her body, which can develop into heartburn that can’t be relieved.
Another example is a young man who recently had a child and started a new stressful job at the same time. The simultaneous impositions of these two new responsibilities can cause severe gastrointestinal problems.
While not all physical pain has a physiological reason behind it, many of our ailments do. There is power in self-healing through a variety of ways that are beyond the scope of this article. However, a helpful thing that you can do for yourself is to become aware of your feelings and mindful of how you repress your feelings. Pay attention to your body and what is going on in your subconscious. Then you can learn how to cope with how you are feeling. Allow yourself to experience your feelings and learn how to reframe things and think them through in a way that is healing for your mind and body. This can be done through therapy, online, or other resources. Talking things through with someone can be extremely helpful as well.
Whichever path you choose, I hope you remember how important it is to take care of your mental health as well as your physical health.