“Without mental health there can be no true physical health”- Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)
Not too many people recognize the link between mental health and medical condition. Some do not want to acknowledge mental health issues. As a behavioral health consultant in a health center, I see first-hand how medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease can affect a person's mental well-being and visa-versa. I mostly get called into the medical examination room after a person is seen by their cardiologist. The person often complains about having rapid heart rate, chest pressure or difficulty breathing. Others have issues with alcohol, smoking, have poor compliance with medications or have difficulty regulating their diabetes, blood pressure or thyroid.
Sometimes it is hard to determine when physical pains are medical or are a direct result of stress. When people experience panic attack symptoms they often report tightness in their chest, difficulty breathing, numbness and/or a flood of worry. They report feeling like they are “having a heart attack!” Yes, when someone is having a heart attack, aka myocardial infarction (MI), they have similar symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pressures and a feeling of impending doom. Tests, including an EKG or sonogram, are needed in order to rule out medical irregularities like obstructions. When medically clear, people often opt for anxiety medications alone to deal with their overactive amygdala, which is the fight or flight part of the brain, instead of addressing it in therapy.
When someone has had a heart attack or heart related surgeries, their mental health issues can intensified. People are often traumatized by these life threatening experiences which can increase their anxiety or stress. This may occur when they feel any abnormal sensation in their body believing it being another heart attack coming. This may result in multiple doctor visits or even isolation due to the fear of leaving the home.
Diabetes mellitus is a deregulation of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Too much glucose can result in nervousness, anxiety and confusion and too little sugar can result in being sad, irritable and have poor concentration. On top of the mood swings associated with diabetes, it can also be frustrating having to monitor levels frequently. Research has indicated that those with type II diabetes are twice as likely to become depressed. When someone is clinically depressed they may find it harder to motivate themself to monitor their levels, take medication or to keep up with their medical appointments possibly leading to worse mood swings. This can lead to a vicious cycle of increased illness.
People who are depressed are more likely to have health related issues. They have a tendency to self medicate by smoking, using alcohol or other drugs to numb the feelings. They also go to the doctor less frequently and are less active. Even though exercising can stimulate the brain to produce the “feel good” chemical in the brain called dopamine, they would rather use nicotine which can produce the same chemical. It is hard to motivate oneself when depressed, and easier to smoke, even though it is more costly and short-lived.
An inability to manage stress levels can lead to serious medical issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Often when people are stressed they may become “stress eaters,” not eat nutritiously or starve themselves. Stress and anxiety can also lead to poor sleeping habits that can lead to irritability and poor concentration. That is why it is important to figure out ways to self-soothe and relax. Not all relaxation techniques work for everyone so there needs to be some time and exploration to find out what works.
Our physical bodies and mental health are connected and need to be cared for. When we eat the right foods, stay hydrated and exercise regularly we not only keep the body running but also keep the mind sharp. Sometimes it is easier said than done, but it is important to figure out ways to stay on track, including involving ourselves in activities we enjoy and also forming healthy daily habits and rituals. It is also important get checked regularly by the doctor–especially men, who are more likely to avoid going to the doctor.
Please contact me at Sheric73@yahoo.com or 516-849- 2152