One of the most important things I learned from my experience of depression was how closely linked my physical and mental well-being are. In the thick of it, I remember many days of trying to figure out why I felt so low. I talked through with my therapist all the various stressors which could have been affecting me that day. This included all my thoughts and feelings, and possible resolutions to my troubles. Only to figure out later on that I hadn’t had enough sleep the night before…and when I got enough sleep the next night, my mood was hugely improved.
It’s still true if I don’t sleep well, I’ll invariably feel a bit low the next day. Not to the extent that I’m depressed, but I definitely notice being more irritable and sensitive to things which wouldn’t normally bother me that much. Being sick is another example of when not feeling great physically affects my emotional resilience and makes everything else that much harder. On one occasion, when I was horribly sick and sleep deprived, I burst into tears because I dropped my toast, butter side down, on the kitchen floor!
And who hasn’t heard of the phenomenon of being “hangry” ie: getting so hungry you start getting angry. I’m sure this is a regular for me coming up to lunchtime at work.
The Mind-Body Connection
It seems so obvious now, the mind-body connection is important, but it took me such a long time to figure it out. For the longest time, I didn’t realise every little fluctuation in my level of happiness didn’t necessarily indicate anything major going wrong other than my body trying to say, “take care of me, please!” Of course, sometimes there are other things going on when you’re feeling down. But I guess I found it useful to realise that my physical health is connected to my emotional well-being, too.
Now that I’m working as a therapist, I’ve noticed this theme with clients as well. Whenever someone says to me they are having a bad day, the first thing I ask about is how they’ve slept, whether they’ve eaten, or if they are sick at the moment. Of course, the answer is not always this simple but I’ve been surprised at the number of people who will say, “Actually, I didn’t sleep at all last night…and now you mention it, no wonder I’m feeling a bit crappy today.”
Separating Mind and Body
These days we are very good at separating mind and body. Our mind – our thoughts, perspectives, moods, and emotions – almost seems like a completely different thing to our physical experience of the world.
These days, it’s essential to think about our physical and mental well-being as interconnected and it’s equally important to take care of both. I’m not one to preach about what this might mean for you. I’d be the last person to advocate that everyone should stick to any particular health regime – I’m firmly from the school of doing whatever works for you!
But I think what it boils down to is a little self-care (and for me personally, a healthy dose of balance) is good for both body and mind. I find noticing the effect of one on the other is helpful in understanding my experience of the world.
What are your thoughts on the mind-body connection?
Barbara has a Masters in Health Science and is a registered Counselling Psychologist with the New Zealand Psychologists Board. She is also a full member of the New Zealand Psychological Society and the Institute of Counselling Psychology. She currently works as therapist within a specialist public health service, supporting clients with both mental health and substance use concerns. She is also the part time content manager for DPSN, where she blogs regularly about issues of diversity across all areas of society, but particularly in relation to mental health and addictions