Mental Health Problems and Mind-Body Wellness

Overview

Mental health problems are similar to other health problems: some can be prevented, others will go away on their own with home treatment, and some need professional attention.

Mental Self-Care

Many mental health problems begin when physical stress (such as an illness or injury) or emotional stress (such as the loss of a loved one) triggers chemical changes in your brain. The goal of treatment for mental health problems—including self-care and professional treatment—is to reduce stress and restore the normal chemical processes in your brain.

Seeking professional help

In general, it is a good idea to seek professional help for a mental health problem when:

  • A symptom does not get better on its own.
  • A symptom becomes severe or disruptive.
  • A symptom becomes a continuous or permanent pattern of behavior and does not respond to self-care.
  • Symptoms become numerous, affect all areas of your life, and do not respond to self-care or help from family or friends.
  • You are thinking about hurting yourself or someone else. See the topics Suicidal Thoughts or Threats and Physical Abuse.

There is a wide range of professional and community resources to choose from for mental health problems.

Mind-Body Wellness

The mind-body connection

Medical science is making remarkable discoveries about the relationship between your state of mind and your mental and physical health. Researchers have found that one function of the brain is to produce substances that can improve your health. Your brain can create endorphins, which are natural painkillers; gamma globulin for fortifying your immune system; and interferon for combating infections, viruses, and even cancer. Your brain can combine these and other substances into a vast number of tailor-made prescriptions for whatever ails you.

The substances that your brain produces depend in part on your thoughts, feelings, and expectations. If your attitude about an illness (or life in general) is negative and you don't have expectations that your condition will get better, your brain may not produce enough of the substances your body needs to heal. On the other hand, if your attitude and expectations are more positive, your brain is likely to produce sufficient amounts of the substances that will boost your body's healing power.

Your physical health also has an impact on your brain's ability to produce substances that affect your mental well-being. An illness or injury that causes long-term physical stress can lead to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances may lead to depression and other mental health problems.

Positive Thinking

People with positive attitudes generally enjoy life more, but are they any healthier? The answer is often "yes." Optimism is a resource for healing. Optimists are more likely to overcome pain and adversity in their efforts to improve their medical treatment outcomes. For example, optimistic coronary bypass patients generally recover more quickly and have fewer complications after surgery than do patients who are less hopeful.1, 2

Your body responds to your thoughts, emotions, and actions. In addition to staying fit, eating right, and managing stress, you can use the following three strategies to help maintain your health:

1. Create positive expectations for health and healing.

Mental and emotional expectations can influence medical outcomes. The effectiveness of any medical treatment depends in part on how useful you expect it to be. The "placebo effect" proves this. A placebo is a drug or treatment that provides no medical benefit except for the patient's belief that it will help. Many patients who receive placebos report satisfactory relief from their medical problem, even though they received no actual medicine.

Changing your expectations from negative to positive may enhance your physical health. Here's how to make the change:

  • Stop all negative self-talk. Make positive statements that promote your recovery.
  • Send yourself a steady stream of affirmations. An affirmation is a phrase or sentence that sends strong, positive statements to you about yourself, such as "I am a capable person" or "My joints are strong and flexible."
  • Visualize health and healing. Add mental pictures that support your positive affirmations.
  • Don't feel guilty. There is no value in feeling guilty about health problems. While there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk for health problems and improve your chances of recovery, some illnesses may develop and persist no matter what you do. Some things just are. Do the best you can.

2. Open yourself to humor, friendship, and love.

Positive emotions boost your health. Fortunately, almost anything that makes you feel good about yourself helps you stay healthy.

  • Laugh. A little humor makes life richer and healthier. Laughter increases creativity, reduces pain, and speeds healing. Keep an emergency laughter kit that contains funny videotapes, jokes, cartoons, and photographs. Put it with your first-aid supplies and keep it well stocked.
  • Seek out friends. Friendships are vital to good health. Close social ties help you recover more quickly from illness and reduce your risk of developing diseases ranging from arthritis to depression.
  • Volunteer. People who volunteer live longer and enjoy life more than those who do not volunteer. By helping others, we help ourselves.
  • Plant a plant and pet a pet. Plants and pets can be highly therapeutic. When you stroke an animal, your blood pressure goes down and your heart rate slows. Animals and plants help us feel needed.

3. Appeal to a higher power.

If you believe in a higher power, ask for support in your pursuit of healing and health. Faith, prayer, and spiritual beliefs can play an important role in recovering from an illness. See healing touch and prayer.

Your sense of spiritual wellness can help you overcome personal trials and things you cannot change. If it suits you, use spiritual images in visualizations, affirmations, and expectations about your health and your life.

References

Citations

  1. Matthews KA, et al. (2004). Optimistic attitudes protect against progression of carotid atherosclerosis in healthy middle-aged women. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(5): 640–644.
  2. Scheier MF, et al. (1999). Optimism and rehospitalization after coronary artery bypass surgery. Archives of Internal Medicine. 159(8): 829–835.

Credits

Author Jeannette Curtis
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Last Updated May 1, 2008

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