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The Invisible Pandemic: The State of the World’s Mental Health and the Role of Mind-Body Connection

fitness self care self discovery wifa vox women's health Jan 20, 2022

The Invisible Pandemic: The State of the World’s Mental Health and the Role of Mind-Body Connection

by Emma Marie Broome

The Invisible Pandemic: The State of the World’s Mental Health and the Role of Mind-Body Connection

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are experiencing a second, invisible pandemic. Mental health was already a global concern pre-COVID, but was largely neglected by public health officials. Now in the midst of a still uncertain and uneasy world, mental health issues have exponentially risen. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), world-wide, over 1 billion people currently live with a mental health condition. 3 million people die every year from the harmful consumption of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. Yet most countries only spend about 2% of their health budgets on mental health. In addition, in low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental health issues receive zero treatment. The picture is clear: our world is suffering and help is slow to come. Despite the many issues facing us we can no longer ignore this invisible pandemic. We have no other choice but to gather one of the best possible resources we have. This resource lives abundantly in each of us as a unique connection we share between our mind and body.

Mind-Body Connection and Western Medicine

Your physical health and the state of your mind (thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc.) all play a profound role in your overall wellness. Although this thought process is still relatively new to Western medicine, the idea that the human mind is intricately linked with the body is ancient history. If we consider the healthcare of ancient history, the mind and body were always treated as one. In many places throughout the world, this concept still exists. However, according to Patricia Hart, MD author of What is the Mind-Body Connection?, during the 17th century Western society diverged and started to view the mind and body as two unique halves of being human. The body was viewed like a machine, with clear inputs and outputs for performance. It certainly was not affected by emotions, thoughts, or feelings. This change in healthcare has had profound reverberations that we’re still feeling today. When only the body is cared for and the mind is left to its own devices, we become vulnerable to our every emotion, thought, and feeling; or, we ostracize them by shutting down and pretending they don’t exist. Add plenty of sprinkles of mental health stigma mixed with several dashes of poor prioritization by government officials (and, oh yea, a Covid-19 pandemic) and the invisible pandemic is born.

The Mind-Body Connection and How it Relates to Mental Health

Samantha is a young woman on the fast track to success. She holds a prestigious leadership role in a company she loves, has plenty of friends, regularly exercises, and is slender and attractive. Her life appears great on the outside, but on the inside it’s a much different story. Samantha regularly struggles with insomnia, she has sporadic episodes where she struggles to catch her breath and it feels like her heart is going to explode out of her chest. She never feels like she is good enough and everyone is eventually going to find out she’s some sort of fraud, causing her to lose everything. Samantha continues to dismiss these thoughts, feelings, emotions, and physical symptoms and often masks them by frequently consuming too much alcohol and working harder. To make matters worse, the lockdowns caused by the pandemic have left her working from home for the foreseeable future; making alcohol more readily available, and the lines between work and home blurry. Samantha’s story is one of the many that define the invisible pandemic, by representing the mental and physical effects of the mind-body disconnect. What Samantha is actually experiencing are symptoms of panic attacks, imposter-syndrome, and generalized anxiety. Instead of seeking help or finding treatment, she is dissociating from all of these symptoms by numbing it with alcohol and avoiding it with work. Daniela Rameriz, author of Exploring the Mind-Body Connection Through Research, shares other potential signs and symptoms of mind-body disconnect, which include:

  • Lack of focus

  • Fatigue

  • Inability to express or name emotions

  • Poor self-esteem

  • Emotional eating

  • Chronic bodily pain with no clear reason why

  • Headaches

  • Muscle tightness

  • Gastrointestinal issues

  • Chest pain

If Samantha continues to ignore the state of her mind, she may end up with far more severe mental and physical health issues such as becoming an alcoholic, developing high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. In addition, her thoughts, feelings and emotions will fester like a bodily wound that is struggling to heal. Millions of people just like Samantha are suffering from the invisible pandemic. Other cases can range in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, age, culture, and background; no one is immune and help can be challenging to receive, purchase, or gain access to. However, the same mind and body that cause confusion and pain can also be the place where we find the most healing. Each of us have the tools inside ourselves to begin bridging the gap between mind and body.

 

How You can Boost Your Mind-Body Connection

No one is born with a mind-body disconnect. This separation occurs over time. As the stress and trauma of life accumulates, more fissures appear in the connection. The longer this stress and trauma is left alone in the dark, the deeper the fissures get. In order to seal these fissures you have to shine some light on them. In other words, you’re going to have to spend some time getting down and deep with yourself. By developing regular habits that boost your level of self-awareness, emotional control, and resiliency you can boost your mind-body connection. Here are five ideas to help you get started:

  • Exercise: Regular exercise increases your body’s ability to handle stress by reducing the amount of stress hormones (like cortisol) that are released during stressful stimuli. Exercise also serves as a healthy distraction from negative thoughts and can help reduce negative feelings and emotions by increasing your levels of feel-good hormones (like serotonin).

  • Meditation: This ancient practice can have a significant calming effect on both mind and body and doesn’t always have to mean sitting still and breathing deeply (although that is a great option). You can meditate while you walk, drive, garden, just about any activity can be meditative. What matters is fully bringing yourself into the present, acknowledging and accepting any thoughts, feelings and emotions. Allow them to enter and allow them to leave without rumination or judgement.

  • Journaling: There is probably no better way to get in touch with your mind and body than journaling. Through the written word you can probe your own mind and unravel the mysteries that shroud your thoughts and emotions. Some prompts to consider: What helps me feel relaxed? What makes me feel safe? What is an experience today that caused me stress and why was it stressful?

  • Creativity: Painting, drawing, or doodling are all examples of activities that help you get in touch with your self-expression, which can be a powerful tool for healing the mind-body connection. According to Cara Fisher Wellvang, an Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor at the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA) and Linden Oaks Hospital in Chicago, being creativite “can help individuals increase feelings of empowerment, hopefulness, and self-worth.” It can also help open doors to how you perceive your external and internal world, piecing together your mind with your body as you relax and express yourself.

  • Nature: Just as little as 10-minutes a day of fresh air and sunlight can have a profound effect on your mind-body connection. Multiple studies have shown that being outdoors boosts your mood,reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, and calms your mind.

Keep in mind that a mind-body disconnect healing process has many layers and there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. What works for one person, may not work for you. It’s important to stay open and receptive to multiple ways of healing your mind-body connection in order to get the most sustainable results. Also know that you will continue to have days where stress, depression, and anxiety are going to rear their ugly heads. Healing your mind-body connection isn’t an escape or quick fix from anything that is ailing your mind or body. Instead, it allows you to live more harmoniously with them, especially during times of adversity.

As COVID-19 continues it’s ever winding, twisting road, the invisible pandemic rages on. Instead of waiting for help, ignoring our experiences, or letting our emotions rule our thoughts and actions, each of us can do our part by tuning into the shared language between our minds and bodies. By tuning in instead of turning away through regular mind-body practices we can start fostering a healthy connection between mind-body, and one by one build the resiliency we need for better mental health, worldwide.

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