World health day is celebrated annually on the 7th of April and each year draws attention to a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
We often think of our mind and body as separate, but they are more interconnected than we can imagine. For example, did you know that the immune system being a key marker of your physical health is also a bridge between one’s physical and mental wellbeing? Stress, especially the chronic type triggers an immune response within the brain that usually leads to depression. In turn, that weakens the immune system leading to a cycle of degradation.
Social wellbeing too has a significant impact on our mental and physical health. When we interact with people the quality and quantity of our relationships affect our mental and physical health.
Impact of mental conditions on physical health
Mental health problems always come with varying degrees of physical manifestations. Some may be easily curable while others may take longer.
Depression comes with headaches, fatigue and digestive problems. Other symptoms can include insomnia, restlessness and difficulty concentrating. Fatigue from mental illness can also interfere with basic hygiene, increasing vulnerability to disease. A weakened immune system can also increase the severity of allergies.
In the case of anxiety, the risk of heart attack rises 9.5 fold in the following two hours. While youth are generally a long way away from having to worry about heart attacks, anger and anxiety involved in impulse control disorders can negatively affect their growing hearts.
How physical health impacts mental well-being?
Being diagnosed with a serious disease like cancer or suffering from a heart attack can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Around one-third of people with serious medical conditions will have symptoms of depression, such as low mood, sleep problems, and a loss of interest in activities.
Physical conditions that make one dependent on others foster a feeling of inadequacy that further leads them into depression.
The Social Factor
Being socially healthy means being able to make positive relationships and acquire the ability to adapt to different social situations and act accordingly. Our social relationships affect our perspective towards life and change our outlook.
Wide-ranging research suggests that strong social ties are linked to a longer life. In contrast, loneliness and social isolation are linked to poorer health, depression, and increased risk of early death.
On the contrary, a deeper social circle helps reduce stress and heart-related risks. We all know the power of touch, and how it catalyses the release of good chemicals that come with diverse, long lasting benefits.
If you’re physically unfit your health will not allow you to be as much around people as you would otherwise be. Similarly, fatigue and low motivation due to mental illness will discourage you to involve yourself with people and you would be trapped in this cycle.
In this pandemic era, our social interaction were largely limited to screens and phones. According to a study published in the Lancet, depression and anxiety rose by 35% during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The findings of the latest National Family Health Survey 2019-21 reveal that Indians have become more obese, hypertensive, and prone to diabetes. The data conveys it all.
In these last two years we have realised the importance of different aspects of our health. Looking at the brighter side, this pandemic was probably a blessing in disguise. It made us more aware of how the choices affect our lives. We have come to value the presence of people around us and the importance of human touch. Hope the learnings stay with us and help us improve our health and that of others too.