Recovery from mental illness is a complex process marked by ebbs and flows of wellness and relapse. Furthermore, it involves the interaction of many internal (i.e., physical and psychological) and external (i.e., housing and family) systems. Our past two articles have focused primarily on how external factors (i.e., housing and employment) can impact one’s ability to recover from a psychiatric illness. This article’s primary objective is somewhat different, as it focuses chiefly on the interconnectedness of one’s own physical and emotional life and how these two internal factors impact recovery. In this article, I will focus on three factors related to the interrelationship of physical and emotional wellness in the process of recovery from mental illness. These three factors include: (a) Mind-Body Connectivity; (b) Psychological Symptomatology and Physical Health; and (c) Connecting Your Mind to Your Body.
Mind-Body Connectivity: How Your Feelings Affect Your Health. The connection between Mind and Body has been established through empirical examination (see Ray, 2003; Pally, 1998) by many different scientific communities (i.e., psychological, biological, and medical). As such, the medical and social service communities have begun to reinforce the need to strike a firm partnership when treating people with mental illness.
According to Ray (2003), both what we think and believe can have a significant impact on our overall health. The reverse is true as well, because our physical functioning and health will also impact our emotional functioning. When considering people with mental illness, the benefits of integrating mind-body treatments are integral, given that people with mental illness are at a higher risk for developing significant physical health problems. As such, physical health and interventions which promote positive physical wellness should be considered as an integral aspect of one’s personal recovery plan, treatment plan, and daily life.
Psychological Symptomatology and Physical Health. Research has found the link between depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and physical health to be the most prevalent. In fact, the World Federation of Mental Health conducted the Mind-Body Connection Survey in 2007 and their findings emphasized how being aware of physical and emotional well-being, or lack thereof, can influence the rate at which one can recover from a depressive episode.
For people who have suffered from depression or anxiety in the past, or are predisposed to feeling sad or nervous, a positive focus on our physical health can help to provide the barrier necessary for preventing an occurrence (or reoccurrence). This is true for several reasons, including: (a) we become aware of our bodies and are better able to notice subtle differences in mood or physical states before having a full-blown episode of depression or anxiety, (b) physical wellness can promote improved cognitive functioning, helping us to make better/less self-destructive decisions, (c) we may notice increased self-esteem (i.e., how we feel about ourselves) and self-efficacy (i.e., our perception of how much control we can exert over our situation), (d) we can strengthen our immune system, (e) we can moderate the negative side effects of medication, and (f) we can all benefit from the natural anti-depressant effects of exercise.
Steps to living well. While the concept of Mind and Body may seem straightforward, the real challenge appears when it is time to implement this in our own lives. To make it easier, we can recognize that our success lies in balance. If we are truly balanced, we should notice that we have a calm mind and a strong body.
Treatment compliance. Remaining disciplined within the confines of your treatment is extremely important. This can include keeping regular doctor’s appointments, taking medication, and attending a treatment program. Also, by meeting with your doctor regularly and receiving education about your condition, you are more likely to recognize when symptoms are increasing or subsiding.
Furthermore, meeting with your treatment providers allows you the opportunity to discuss other factors that influence recovery, including sleep and nutrition management. Having a healthy diet can influence how well your immune system functions, how you are able to manage co-occurring medical issues (i.e., diabetes), and how you feel about yourself. The same is true for sleep. Not maintaining an adequate sleep schedule (i.e., approximately 8 hours per night) can influence how clearly you can think, mood states, and physical wellness.
Physical activity & exercise. Exercise is essential to recovery. By caring for your physical self, you can increase the effectiveness of medical intervention. This is particularly true of depressive illnesses and anxiety. While not recognized as a cure for depression and anxiety, a growing body of research has indicated that when used in conjunction with therapy and medication, exercise has had great success in reducing symptomatology (see Babyak et al., 2000 & Johnsgard, 2004).
Stress reduction. The ability to reduce stress can be the key to keeping yourself emotionally balanced. For some, however, the ability to reduce stress can be a very challenging process. One such way, is to become comfortable expressing your feelings. Learning how to express your feelings in appropriate ways eases stress, reduces anxiety, and combats depression. It can also help us to gain assertiveness skills, which in turn, help us to advocate in our treatment and gain a sense of empowerment with whom we are and where we are in our recovery.
The positive and successful incorporation of mental and physical wellness into your daily life, and into your recovery can help you to feel better and do better. Recovery requires growth on many levels. In this case, being able to recognize how your physical state effects your emotional state (and vice versa) will facilitate the process by increasing your ability to remain resilient and to empower you to become a more active participant in your own treatment and recovery.
This article was written using the information disseminated through the Family Education Group. The FEG is designed for individuals who have a family member or loved one struggling with a mental illness. We meet the second Wednesday of every month. For more information about the Family Education Group or Meadowview Hospital, please contact Meghan Farrell at (201) 319-3660.