Diana Chavez (Photo: Special to The News-Press)
You notice the check engine light comes on and schedule a car inspection. You notice you are having flu-like symptoms and visit the doctor. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? When your interest in doing things dwindles? When you find yourself tired or sleeping less?
Perhaps chronic headaches, shoulder pain, nausea, chest tightness, or difficulties breathing have less to do with our physical health and more with our mental health. It is common to simply plow through these sensations often explaining them away by rationalizing, “I have a deadline… Work has been too stressful… I’ve been sick…” And this may be true.
However, ignoring these physical and emotional sensations, particularly after they’ve been around for a while, can negatively affect the connection between one’s physical and mental health and lead to conditions such as anxiety or depression, which in turn can affect physical health leading to obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure, to name a few. The cycle is vicious.
Staying in touch with one’s emotions, thinking patterns, and behavioral habits boosts resilience, can lower anxiety or depression, improve symptom management and lead to better outcomes.
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A good self-help strategy, and excellent habit to develop, is to set aside five to 10 minutes per day to engage in a self-check-in at the beginning of the day or self-reflection at the end of the day, or both. During a self-check-in, simply start with a head-to-toe body scan and identify how your body feels. Tense? Rested?
Then move to understand any emotions or thinking patterns associated with how your body feels. You may learn that your accelerated heart rate is a sense of anxiety about a work-related project. During self-reflection, simply consider on how the day went. There is no need to judge or try to change anything, but simply to notice what you could have done differently, or better yet, what you want to do again that brought you joy.
This increased awareness of our physical and mental sensations or feelings will enhance our sense of resiliency over things we might not otherwise be able to change or control.
The connection between physical and mental health is a vital one and often underestimated or poorly understood. You do not need to wait to feel depressed or anxious, or have chronic pain, or insomnia, to seek help. It is incredibly reassuring and validating to seek help from a mental health professional. One could learn that a particular set of symptoms or feelings are quite “normal” under certain circumstances or that is time to receive help, and more importantly, that help is available.
Recently, my social media savvy teenage niece wisely posted, “Focus on yourself and don’t feel bad about it, it’s needed sometimes.” Life’s demands often prevent us from self-care, taking priority over taking care of ourselves: the pandemic, unemployment, divorces, deaths, political uproar and many other things. To best be able to handle these demands, it’s so important to take time to take care of you.
Diana J. Chavez, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist with Healthcare Network. Chavez and other members of the behavioral health team are offering up to three free visits with mental health providers through mid-November. To make an appointment, call 239-658-3185. Appointments are available via telehealth or at Healthcare Network’s Nichols Community Health Center in Golden Gate. Learn more at HealthcareSWFL.org/Direct-Relief.
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