Understanding how our physical and mental health are connected
For many, minding their physical health may seem like common sense, but this attitude can be a stark contrast to our attitude towards mental health.
The link between stress and our physical health has been well researched. Stress releases cortisol, which helps us deal with stress by shutting down unnecessary functions, such as the immune system, to allow the body to direct all energies towards dealing with the stress at hand. These reactions are intended to be temporary, and once the body calms down, cortisol release stops.
Chronic stress facilitates too much cortisol being in the body, and when present for prolonged periods, the body develops a resistance to cortisol. Lymphocytes are a major component of the immune system, killing invading organisms that would cause disease, and defending against harmful substances. Cortisol suppresses lymphocytes production and activity. With fewer lymphocytes, the body is vulnerable and exposed to increased risk of infection and the possibility of disease.
Recent research has also looked at the link between anxiety in men, and cancer. The largest ever study to explore this link tracked 15,938 Britons over age 40 for 15 years. Even after taking into account factors that boost the risk of cancer, including age, alcohol consumption, smoking and chronic diseases, researchers found that men with a diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder were more than twice as likely to die of cancer.
Being aware of the impact that our mental health has on our physical health will help us to be mindful of looking after both, and ensures that we give ourselves the best chance to stay healthy in a holistic way.