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The link between mental and physical health
Resources: Mental Health, Wellbeing, Self-care, Mindfulness, Youth Talk, For Myself
A healthy body is key to our mental wellbeing. Here Jess shares why and what she’s been doing to get her body moving and find her balance.
The link between mental and physical health

Welcome to our Youth Talk Blog, a section dedicated to youth lived-experiences with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. This is a positive, fun and resourceful space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support. This post has been written by Jess, our Community Education intern, who is a 23-year-old psychology student.

I have discovered during the last lockdown how important it is to keep my body healthy, but also how much this relates to my mental wellbeing as well. When I am feeling down and unmotivated, I feel better by physically getting up from where I am, and doing a new action, whether this be cleaning, making myself some food, or changing. I have found that getting physically ready for the day and making a list for what I want to accomplish do wonders for boosting my motivation in times where this may be more difficult.  

When it comes to stressful times, the body naturally responds here, like stomach issues and headaches. I have learnt it is important to listen to your body and what it needs to help it function better physically and mentally.  

The gut-brain connection

There is a gut-brain connection which can link anxiety to digestive problems and vice versa. I have experienced this more specifically during times of stress. For example, after watching too much news on the pandemic, I'd get a sore stomach. Feelings of butterflies in the stomach or feeling nauseous can also occur. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness and happiness, these can all trigger symptoms in the gut. This does not mean that these stomach conditions are imagined. The vagus nerve carries information between the brain and the internal organs and controls the bodies response in times of relaxation and rest, so when the body is not under stress, the vagus nerve sends commands which slow heart and breathing rates. Physical and mental health are inter-related and influenced by social, environmental, and contextual factors.

It may not seem obvious initially that issues in our gut can be related to mental wellness, but it is important to remember our bodies are always trying to communicate with us. When we are experiencing anxious thoughts, feeling overwhelmed from a busy mind, mood swings or feelings of flatness or lack of motivation, these can automatically impact how we feel physically, making evident the physical and mental health connection. There are some simple changes that can be made to manage these conditions, mainly around daily exercise and moving the body. 

Releasing body tension

I have also noticed that during lockdown tension not only would build up from stress in my gut, but all over my body. I felt more tension in my muscles during stressful times, particularly in the neck, shoulders and back. This would occur when I was watching news about the pandemic for example, I'd notice a headache or sore stomach coming from tension or stress building up. I have found a great way to help ease the tension in my body is stretching. Stretching stimulates receptors in the nervous system that slows production of stress hormones. It can also increase range of motion, blood flow and improve posture. This finding came in great use for me being a university student, stuck sitting at my desk hours on end. 

Finding videos on YouTube and making space in the living room to follow stretching exercises has been as beneficial to my body as much as my mind. It helps me pay attention to my body at the present moment, and has me focusing on breathing.

I have talked before about the benefits of exercise, mindfulness and taking care of the mind and body, especially in times of increased stress. Stretching the body by doing simple YouTube tutorials such as what I do, as well as activities like yoga, pilates or progressive muscle relaxation can help our minds and bodies feel clearer and relieved. It is becoming more understood that physical and mental health are interconnected and how important it is to support these dimensions holistically.

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