State Of Mind: The Connection Between Mental and Physical Health

Can poor mental health lead to poor physical health? Our body often gives us signs about the state of our mind—read on to find out how you can better listen to your body to recognise the effects of anxiety and stress.

Good health is a lifelong pursuit, and we’re often told that being responsible is the first step in achieving this goal.

But here’s an important tip you might not have known: your physical health is intimately connected to the condition of your mental health.

In fact, poor mental health can translate to habits that could be causing you physical pain!

To escape from this cycle of poor health, here's a guide on how you can decode the signs your body could be telling you, and how you can treat both your mind and body right. 

Step 1: So You Think You’re Anxious

Maybe you've noticed yourself fidgeting more, or you suspect you're more worried than usual. How do we know if it’s caused by anxiety?

Before we address potential issues, let's learn how to identify some of the signs and habits that could tell us more about our mental health status. 

Psychiatrist Judson Brewer suggests mapping out our habits and possible causes to understand how we react to different situations.

Write down your triggers (e.g. feeling anxious or unmotivated) and specific responses to the emotion (e.g. snacking or online shopping) and keep track of it over a few weeks—this can yield better insights about our behaviour, and teach us how to recognise our anxious habits.

Use this format:
Specific Responses:

Once you've identified potential habits, scan through our list in Step 2 for the common responses that people may have to cope with their anxiety and see if you might be guilty of any!   

Step 2: What Does Anxiety Look Like?

According to Virginia Tang, an Osteopathic Practitioner from Osteopathic Health Care at Neuros, many patients who come in with physical aches and pains also show signs of anxiety and stress.

Here are some common bodily responses to anxiety, and how you can tackle them:

A) Teeth-clenching

A habit some of us may practice without realising is clenching or grinding our teeth. In fact, this is a medically-recognised condition called ‘Bruxism’ which could occur even when you’re asleep. 

Quick fix: Doing jaw exercises at timely intervals not only reminds you to stop gritting your teeth, but also relieves the pain in your jaw.

For an immediate stop, practice touching the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth whenever you realise you’ve been clenching your jaw. Go ahead, give it a try now!

B) Change in eating habits

We often joke about stress-eating, but did you know that it could be a habit linked to anxiety?

A sudden voracious appetite or lack of appetite could be caused by a change in your mental health. You might start to crave for sugary, salty, or fatty foods, or the thought of food could completely turn you off.

Quick fix: Whichever side of the spectrum you find yourself on, a common suggestion is to keep a fresh supply of cut fruits and vegetables in your office or home pantry.

Surrounding yourself with healthy food is not only great for your body’s needs, but also satisfies your need to munch on something throughout the day. If you're not keen on food, regular servings of fruits and veggies can provide you with basic nutrients and even whet your appetite! Still craving for a salty kick? A small amount of plum powder for fruits or soy sauce for those crunchy vegetables will do just the trick.

C) Leg-shaking

Here’s a habit that some of us are guilty of: restlessly shaking our legs or tapping our fingers.

It’s something we do without realising, but one that can cause discomfort, both to ourselves and to anyone nearby. While there’s an actual condition termed as Restless Leg Syndrome, only about 7% of the population are estimated to possibly have this. Instead, many shake their legs either from being sedentary, or to alleviate stress.

Quick fix: This one's an easy fix—just listen to your body! Move every hour, or change leg positions often. Taking a walk in the afternoon can also help in shaking off the pent-up tension.

D) Stomach upsets

Did you know that our gut health is closely connected to our mental well-being?

Phrases such as ‘gut-wrenching’ and ‘butterflies in our stomach’ describe this connection between our gut and our brain. In times of high tension, it’s common to feel our stomach churning, experience nausea, or have abdominal cramps.

Quick fix: While there’s no solution to instantly improve your gut health, take precautions with a healthy diet that promotes gut microbiota growth. For those with easily agitated stomachs, regular consumption of yoghurt and fruits throughout the day could aid with digestion.

E) Hair obsession

Do you find yourself excessively playing with your hair or scratching a certain part of your scalp more than usual?

Anxiety can cause you to seek comforting behaviour, like running your hand through your hair.

Quick fix: For those of us with long hair, wear your hair up or in a loose braid to cut down on unnecessary actions, and keep a stress ball nearby to keep your hands occupied whenever you get the urge.

F) Back pain

Spinal issues arising from bad posture, a common issue many desk-bound workers might face, can also create emotional strain. Sure, we might not consider the constant discomfort we feel as ‘pain’, but the truth is that it does lead to mental distress.

Studies show that adolescents who experience back pain are more likely to suffer from mental health conditions , and for adults, the pain can lead to mood swings, fatigue, or sleep issues.

Quick fix: While gentle stretching and therapeutic exercise like yoga could ease pain, seeing an osteopath or a chiropractor is a good way to address the root of the problem—for example, Osteopathic Health Care treats ailments that cause minor to chronic pain, including arthritis, adolescent scoliosis, joint and neck pain.

If you find yourself regularly engaging in one or more of these habits, it’s likely an indication that you’re undergoing immense stress, even without knowing. However, this list is not exhaustive—just like how everyone is unique, our habits are individual to us too, and how we express anxiety differs from one to another.

Step 3: It’s Okay To Get Help.

Our day-to-day lives are often hectic and filled with curveballs that can lead to spikes of anxiety and stress, but how can you tell when you need professional help?

Anxiety and depression can come in different forms, which is why we recommend seeking professional help rather than self-diagnosing your mental health condition. A tell-tale sign that you should reach out for support is when your habits escalate into a panic attack or if the habits affect your daily life.

The thought of reaching out to a therapist can be overwhelming.

For those of us who might be hesitant, an osteopath might be a good starting step. As licensed physicians, osteopaths use physical manipulation to identify and treat ailments, which can be supplemented with psychological care when needed. The first step can often be the hardest to take—once you’re aware of the signals your mind and body are sending you, you’re well on your road to achieving peace of mind.


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