How our mental health is connected with physical symptoms
Helena often felt like she had a chest infection. Her lungs felt tight, and she gasped for air. Was she suffering from pneumonia? When she visited the medical doctor, all her tests seemed to be normal. The doctor asked her, “What else is going on in your life? Are you stressed, anxious, or feeling depressed?”
Helena had been feeling anxious in her marriage. Her husband had repeatedly told her that he was unhappy and had refused to go to couple’s counseling. As a result, she often felt hopeless and anxious. She wanted to leave the marriage, but it scared her half to death. Finally, her doctor recommended that she see a therapist help her work through some of these strong emotions and thoughts.
Mark was always in pain. His muscles were tense, and his joints were stiff. The doctor couldn’t find any inflammation markers in his blood work. ‘Perhaps you have a mood disorder?’ the doctor had suggested. At first, Mark was upset. He felt like the doctor was telling him that he was emotionally weak. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Mark grew up with domestic violence, joined the military, and was now a first responder. He always considered himself to be resilient and tough, and he was. However, the years of ongoing stress and adrenaline had taken a toll on his nervous system.
Stacy always felt tired. It seemed like no matter how much she rested; she could not get her energy back. Stacy was constantly coming down with colds. She struggled to find meaning and joy in life. Her doctor had told her that her symptoms were most likely due to depression.
The first thing we do when we are ill is to seek medical advice. When the doctor tells us that perhaps it is our mental health, it is easy to feel slighted or offended. However, it makes sense that we would have physical symptoms when our mental health is suffering. Our minds and our bodies are connected, so if our brain receives a signal that something is off, we might feel it in our body. Here are some physical symptoms of some common mood disorders, along with their prevalence rates.
- Depression: According to the World health organization, 280 million adults worldwide suffer from depression. Some physical symptoms include fatigue, low energy levels, back pain, muscle pain, inflammation, headaches, decreased eyesight, stomach, and abdominal pain.
- Anxiety: Global prevalence of anxiety can be as high as 28%. Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include a tight chest, difficulty breathing, digestive problems, muscle pain, and tremors. Severe anxiety can also lead to panic attacks which can feel like a heart attack or like you can’t breathe.
- PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder has different prevalence rates depending on the region and the trauma. Physical symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, inflammation, pain, backaches, headaches, physical tension, and tremors.
Seeking help can feel like an overwhelming task but, it can be the first step to getting your life back on track so that you can begin to thrive.
Dr. Monica Borschel offers EMDR and therapy online through the MindnLife Clinic in Hong Kong.