#ThriveRU, Health & Wellness

The Power of the Mind: How Your Mental Health Affects Your Physical Health

The mind and the body are two parts of the same whole. On a good day, they work together to ensure survival. If one part is out of whack, the entire system can collapse.

It is common knowledge that physical health has an impact on mental health. No one bats an eye when you neglect your responsibilities because you’re not feeling well. This is a socially acceptable response to physical pain.

However, we rarely talk about the way mental health affects our physical health. Take generalized anxiety disorder, for example. According to a 2013 report by the government of Canada, it affects nearly 12% of our population (Government of Canada 2014). Those suffering with anxiety may experience nausea, difficulty eating and sleeping and headaches. In extreme cases, panic responses may cause chest pain, trouble breathing and dizziness. These startling physical symptoms often interfere with day-to-day life. It is clear that our thoughts have power over us.

Anxiety can create a vicious cycle whereby intrusive thoughts bring about physical symptoms and these symptoms may in turn cause related stress about your well-being. The more intense your thoughts get, the more intense the physical symptoms become. It seems never ending — anxiety causes symptoms, symptoms cause anxiety, and everything just keeps getting worse.

Everyone experiences mental illness differently and everyone responds to treatment differently. We must look at mental health under a nuanced lens, recognizing the power of the mind and talking about it. Too many people suffer in silence because it is not a problem that comes with an easy solution. In place of that solution, we need to change the way we look at recovery.

Recovery is a process, not a destination. For some of us, it never ends; we are constantly moving past our old selves, finding new solutions or adapting old ones. The most productive conversations I have ever had about mental health have been with people suffering similar issues, speaking honestly about the situations we find ourselves in and the ways we learn to cope, the strategies that work and the ones that fall flat. We can only fill the gaps through conversation.   

So let’s talk. How do you cope with mental illness? Mindfulness and meditation are two popular strategies that often go hand in hand. Mindfulness refers to being fully present in the moment while meditation is a practice that involves transforming the mind to encourage calmness and clarity.

These techniques have been known to really help people calm down and focus on what’s important to them. However, everyone is different. Whenever I try to be fully present in the moment, I usually wind up in an existential abyss, thinking “this moment is nothing, nothing is important, I am nothing, etc”.

Although it is difficult for me to meditate, I have always found physical yoga practices or any form of physical activity to be incredibly effective. Zoning in on your body is a great distraction from your mind and it releases endorphins which in turn naturally reduce stress, anxiety and depression. When you take care of your body, you are also taking care of your mind.

Self-awareness is especially important when it comes to recovery. I think the only way you can figure out what works for you is through a process of elimination. Don’t be discouraged if something isn’t working for you. Use your knowledge as a starting point and try again, talk to someone, make a new plan. Keep going and remember you’re not alone – we’re in this together.

Need someone to talk to? I’ve got your back. Keep in mind that I’m not a professional – still, I’m always here to listen and for support. Send me a message on Facebook, Instagram (mx.kzk) or Twitter (maxinekozak_). 

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Maxine Kozak
2nd year Creative Industries student specializing in Storytelling in Media and The Business and Practice of News / Storyteller for RU Student Life / super into poetry, the environment, making zines and binging TV shows / IG: mx.kzk / Twitter: maxinekozak_