How Mental Health Affects Your Physical Health

2020 has been a challenging year to say the least. The stress and anxiety caused by fear, uncertainty, isolation, grief and other worries that come along with a pandemic can take a toll on your mental health. Did you know that stress isn't just a mental health issue? It can cause physical problems as well. In today's blog, the physicians at Resurgens Orthopaedics are talking about how your mental and physical health affect each other.

What Happens When You Experience Stress

When you experience stress your body responds by activating a fight or flight response prompting hormones to be released including adrenaline and cortisol. This reaction gives you a burst of energy while causing your heart rate to increase, blood pressure to rise and muscles to tighten. Your body will return back to its typical state once the stressor has passed. However, COVID-19 has brought a constant state of stress as you navigate social distancing, virtual work and school not to mention health concerns for yourself and loved ones from the virus itself. When your body feels consistently under attack the fight or flight response remains.

Chronic Stress and Your Health

Chronic stress can lead to many health issues including anxiety, depression, heart disease gastrointestinal problems and suppressed immune system among other health risks. It also increases your risk for painful disorders such as arthritis. "During this pandemic, like most people, people with arthritic pain are feeling their symptoms more than ever", says Dr. Mathew Levine. "I have been encouraging my patients to be mindful of their 'self-care.' We often discuss getting out of the house, taking that walk, and enjoying some fresh air. By reducing our stress in conjunction with exercise, it can often result in decreased pain."


How to Help Cope with Stress and Anxiety


Exercise

Regular exercise strengthens muscles, reduces stiffness, improves flexibility, and boosts mood and self-esteem helping to combat stress. Choose an activity you enjoy and take advantage of fresh air and sunshine outdoors. Not sure where to start? Try incorporating 30 minutes of walking each day while listening to music, a podcast or catching up with a friend on the phone (don't forget to maintain awareness of your surroundings and keep volume low so you are still able to hear traffic). Always check with your doctors before beginning an exercise regimen. "Exercise and breathing are my 'Go To' stress relievers", says Dr. Erroll Bailey. "Even on surgery days, I try to do early morning walks on a treadmill, yoga or light weightlifting. It gives me both the energy and calmness to approach my day."

Stress Management

Managing your stress can help improve your mental health and decrease your physical pain. Some ways to decrease stress include listening to music, reading a book, taking a bath or watching a TV show you enjoy. Doing at least one of these each day will help you decrease your stress. Another way to decrease stress is to seek the support of a family member, friend or a mental health professional so you can "talk" about the situation(s) that are adding stress for you.

Sleep

Lack of sleep has a direct effect on your mental and physical health as well as your quality of life. Establishing a regular sleep pattern is important. Try to go to bed around the same time each night. Work to create a comfortable sleep environment with no distractions and a calming temperature. Don't eat too close to bedtime and avoid drinking caffeine after 4pm. Relax for at least 30 minutes before hitting the hay while resisting the urge to use electronic devices.


Eat Healthy

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains can have an effect on your mental health as well as your physical health. Studies show that a healthy diet can help with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Avoid or limit caffeine and sugar as both have been shown to have an effect on your mood and anxiety levels. Skipping meals can lead to headaches making your stress symptoms worse.

Know You are Not Alone

If you have been experiencing chronic stress or anxiety, it's important to know that you are not alone. Talk to your friends, co-workers or call a helpline if you are feeling stressed and anxious. COVID-19 has presented various challenges in various ways for every single person. We are all in this together and hope these tips help you continue to keep moving through 2020.

**Dr. Mathew Levine and Dr. Erroll Bailey have been recognized by the Arthritis Foundation for their excellence in orthopaedic surgery. Dr. Levine was named Medical Honoree of the Arthritis Foundation's 2020 Walk to Cure Arthritis in Atlanta. Dr. Bailey has been selected to receive the Arthritis Foundation's 2020 Hugh McLeod, III M.D. Award of Excellence in October.**