The mind and body link is a far more powerful link than most of us are aware and there are many different psychological conditions that can affect our physical health as well as physical health conditions that can affect our body. For an apt demonstration of just how powerful this connection is, observe the fact that simply smiling results in hormones that make our brains happier, how feeling scared or inspired can cause the hairs on your body to stand up on end, how being stressed can trigger bowel movements, how ‘burning mouth syndrome’ is potentially an entirely psychosomatic condition, or how exercising can make us happier and more intelligent in terms of our IQ scores. In fact it’s even possible to train for a sporting event by simply visualising the event in our heads as this trains the same neural connections we train when we actually carry out the movements. The connection is constantly revealing itself in unusual ways so it’s no surprise that there should be a very powerful link between depression and our physical health.
Depression is a serious psychological condition for which the main symptoms are: low mood, thoughts of death, sobbing, feelings of worthlessness, lack of interest, lack of appetite, hopelessness, lack of libido, tiredness, lethargy and insomnia. This has any number of causes – it can be triggered by highly upsetting and distressing life events such as the loss of a family member or the loss of a job, it can come about as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, or it can develop seemingly from nowhere as a result of negative thoughts, life getting on top of you, a creeping doubt or completely out of the blue. This can be an incredibly distressing experience for the individual and take away their enjoyment of life, and if it leads them to self harm then this can also be a very dangerous and even life threatening condition.
How Our Physical Health Affects Depression
This depression as mentioned can have many causes, but some of these are physical. This can be the result for instance of a hormone imbalance as mentioned which can be caused by the wrong diet. Alcohol in particular can cause depression over long periods of time as it messes with the brains dopamine levels which is the hormone that is responsible for feelings of euphoria as well as drive and reward. A bad diet generally can result in our brain not getting the minerals and nutrients it needs and cause us to become tired and sluggish through fatty deposits throughout our body. A lack of carbohydrates meanwhile can starve the brain of energy resulting in low energy and a resulting low mood.
Even if a poor diet hasn’t caused depression, eating the right things can help to prevent it by increasing our positive hormones. Eating a banana for instance can release dopamine and make us feel happy as a result. Many other things can also cause positive hormones to be released in the brain such as exercise which can result in the release of endorphins and such as sunlight which can also help us to regulate our body clock. This is why some people get what is known as ‘SAD’ or ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ which can cause low mood during the colder and darker months. Even being cold can cause anxiety.
Illness and injury can also cause depression or at least make it more likely. This is both because of the upset and the stress of being ill – particularly if it’s something serious which might be untreatable, and because of the strain it places on our immune system which then results in us becoming tired and generally ‘low’. If you think of how miserable you feel when you have flu, then it should come as no surprise that this can cause or at least increase the chances of depression. In some cases medication can also cause depression, anxiety and related conditions as the side effects and it’s important to consult with your physician if you think this might be the case.
Conversely another thing that can help to combat depression is spending time with friends and family, which can help you to laugh and smile more. As mentioned before – facial feedback can cause us to feel happier when we smile, and at the same time laughter can help us to produce more happiness hormones. Kissing and feeling loved can likewise combat depression – and sex is considered one of the best ways to promote a positive mood and one of the best natural depressants.
How Depression Affects Our Physical Health
The mind body link is a two way affair however, and just as our physical health can promote or stave off depression, so too can depression damage your health and this can unfortunately create a vicious cycle of sorts where your depression worsens your physical health and this then causes you to become more depressed. It’s important to try and break this cycle then with the natural antidepressants mentioned above (sex, sunlight, friendship, laughter, exercise, good food etc) and with counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy and similar techniques.
There are many reasons that our physical health can be affected by depression. Like anxiety for instance or stress, depression can tax our immune system and this can result in it being less able to fight bacteria and prevent illness. This then makes you likely to develop things like colds and even more serious conditions and to be less able to recover from them (thus also increasing the depression). Wounds too can become slower to heal as a result of a damaged immune system and you will generally be slower and more unwell.
At the same time as mentioned one of the symptoms of depression is insomnia meaning that you can’t get to sleep and/or have broken sleep or light sleep once you do manage to drift off. This then means that you don’t get the sleep you require resulting in a range of difficulties – physical and mental tiredness, lack of concentration, headaches, loss of judgement and more immune system problems. At the same time headaches can also be caused by the anxiety.
Bowel movements can also be affected by your psychological state so you might find yourself with constipation or diarrhoea. Another symptom many people express is aching muscles and joints which coupled with the general tiredness and weakness makes any movement or activity seem harder. At the same time if you have anxiety with your depression then this can release adrenaline and result in a faster heartbeat placing more stress on it and making heart disease more likely. Finally, if you are having suicidal thoughts then your depression can really manifest itself physically and put you in serious physical danger. Should this be the case then you should seek medical attention immediately.