By Lisa Phillippart

Welcome to Mental Health Awareness Month 2021! This year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has chosen the campaign theme of, “You are not alone.” In light of the past year and the isolation created by the pandemic, the need to find ways of staying connected has become more important than ever.

There is another kind of connection that is just as critical; and that is the relationship between your mental health and your physical well-being.

A biological connection exists between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. The brain is intimately connected to your endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health.

As thoughts and feelings are generated in the brain, hormones from the endocrine system are produced, which in effect controls much of what is going on within the body. Oftentimes, those who go to their doctor’s offices with physical complaints have underlying depression.

Depression has been shown to increase the risk for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. Research has shown that feeling depressed affects the immune system and those habits associated with depression, such as a poor diet or lack of physical activity, may create conditions for illness to occur. If you are skeptical of the effect your mind has on your body, take a moment to think about the “white-coat syndrome.” For some people, the minute they step into a doctor’s office, their blood pressure increases. In white coat syndrome, anxiety is directly related to a physical function-blood pressure.

Total health depends on a healthy mind and body. Take time to cultivate both in these ways:

Eat better. A healthy, regular diet is for the body and mind.

Go to bed at the same time every night. Losing sleep is heard on your heart and increases crankiness.

If you fall down, get back up. Resilience in the face of adversity strengthens how you think, feel, and act.

Get out and play. Strike a balance between work and fun. Taking time out for relaxation and socializing has positive effects on your emotional and physical health.

Exercise. It not only improves your mood, it enhances your physical well-being.

See your doctor regularly. While mental health challenges may be creating physical symptoms, it also works the other way.

Physical warning signs may be causing mental and emotional distress.

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