The link between physical health and mental health.

It’s not always recognised that our physical health and mental health are closely related. However, if you’ve had a nasty cold or flu, you may remember how that made you feel a bit low in mood, as well as poorly. Or if you’ve been feeling anxious – you might have had physical symptoms such as nausea, tense muscles, headache etc. So, if you’re feeling depressed or anxious it’s important to consider your physical wellbeing needs too. Here’s a few things to consider:

In an earlier blog I talked about our need for a good night’s sleep and I’m sure that if you’ve ever had times where you’ve struggled to sleep you’ll know that it can make you feel very tired and irritable, and even emotional and tearful, and prone to making mistakes (errm – why did I put the milk back in the microwave instead of the fridge?!). Doing your best to get a good night’s sleep will make a big difference – why not take a look at my earlier blog for some tips on getting a better night’s sleep.

You may be aware of the effect that healthy eating has on your body – but did you know that it makes a difference to your mind as well? For example, if your blood sugar levels dip, you could feel very tired and low, or if you aren’t getting the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals, this can affect your body’s ability to produce the right balance of chemicals that your brain needs for a positive mood and concentration. Mind, the Mental Health Charity, have produced a great article on Food and Mood which is well worth checking out if you want to learn more about this

Consider also the amount of caffeine you consume – caffeine might give you a ‘pick-me-up’ – but it will also put-you-down again – potentially making you feel anxious and low, so whilst that early morning coffee can give you a much needed boost to get you going – remember that it can have unpleasant side effects – and if you keep consuming caffeinated tea, coffee or soft drinks throughout the day to keep you pepped up – this can cause sleeplessness at night – meaning a vicious cycle that requires more caffeine to keep you going each day.

Exercise (or lack of it) also impacts our mood – this is because it affects the production of what’s known as ‘happy hormones’ – Endorphins, Dopamine and Serotonin. The term ‘runner’s high’ refers to this elation of mood during and after exercise. So, whilst you might not feel like it, exercising really can make a difference to your mood. The recommendation is at least 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week – but if this seems like a lot, why not try building up to this – maybe starting with some 10-minute walks for example – whatever you choose, the more fun and enjoyable you find it, the more likely you’ll keep it going.

the link between physical health and mental health

Whilst I don’t want to be a ‘spoil-sport’ – another, perhaps more obvious consideration is the use of alcohol, smoking and illicit drugs – you may get a quick high from using these but the after effects can be detrimental to your mental wellbeing. Of course, unless there’s a medical reason not to, then enjoying your favourite tipple from time to time shouldn’t hurt, but I’m sure you’ll feel it if you over-do it – alcohol is a depressant after all. You might think smoking a cigarette helps you feel less stressed – but how do you feel when you haven’t had a smoke in a while? – those withdrawal symptoms aren’t pleasant are they? Alcohol, smoking and drugs all impact the delicate brain chemistry and the brain’s ability to produce the right amount of chemicals it needs for a good mood. Not only that but they’re addictive and can create a dependency that’s difficult to break. If you need help in reducing your use of these substances then there are lots of specialist organisations that can help, or talk to your GP.

So making some changes to the way you take care of yourself physically can make a big difference to the way you feel emotionally, but having said that, I also understand that it’s only part of the picture and there are lots of difficulties in life that can’t be resolved simply through a healthier lifestyle, so if you’d like to find out more about how counselling can help, or would like to arrange an initial session to talk about your concerns further in a safe, confidential and non-judgmental place, then please get in touch – I’d like to help.

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