too much chocolate is not self-care

We Need Mental Health as well as Physical Health

As a movement/exercise trainer I write a lot about benefits of physical movement for chronic illness. It is my area of expertise. I am well aware that mental health will affect clients’ motivation to enhance their physical health. Recently I wrote about the financial aspects. As I am a CPA, I’m qualified to write about dollars too.

Today I take a look at mental health. I am not qualified in the mental health field, therefore I refer to those who are. My own experiences may put the advice into context and help you consider whether some support may be helpful or life adjustments may be necessary for your situation.

Queensland Health published 5 steps for making your mental health a priority in 2018 (and beyond) earlier this month. I’m going to talk about those 5 steps in the context of having a chronic condition.

Understand what mental health actually is

This is important. If we don’t have an understanding of what mental health actually is, we won’t recognise when we need support. We already have a physical condition: diabetes, lupus, fibromyalgia, inflammatory arthritis…..the list is very long. Maybe we have more than one condition to manage. Our life may have slowly or suddenly changed and those changes can bring with them depression or anxiety. There can be a sense of loss if a patient has to reduce working hours or give up work entirely. The financial concerns resulting from that life change can bring considerable stress. There are times, especially in the early days, when it can feel like a downward spiral.

I remember what it was like in the early days, when I was not yet on medication as the specialists investigated and the diagnostic process chugged along. It. Was. Tough. I did have faith there was light at the end of the tunnel, but that light seemed to be a tiny speck in the distance at times. Now I can leg press 160 kg – that is a long way from the days when I walked five minutes, three times a day. Not only am I physically healthier, I am also mentally stronger. I feel in control, which I certainly didn’t in late 2014.

Just as our physical health can affect our mental health, the reverse is also true: our mental health can affect our physical health. If we reach a point where we feel there is no hope, then we may stop doing the very physical things that would give us hope and a better quality of life. Sometimes it really is the old chicken or the egg question.

Being mentally well doesn’t mean you don’t experience ‘negative’ emotions or reactions, like sadness, anger, grief or frustration. Similarly, being mentally unwell doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t experience emotions like happiness or excitement, go to work or school, or have relationships.

Having mental wellbeing means being able to experience all the ups and downs of life and cope with them in a psychologically and emotionally healthy way.

Please read the full article for the clinical definitions and a broader explanation of what constitutes mental wellness.

Cultivate mental wellness

For physically healthy people, this may not be something they have to think about too much. There are mountains of research showing that physical exercise helps maintain mental health. Healthy people are out there playing tennis, running, cycling, gyming and swimming with gusto. Us? Maybe not so much, at least not at first.

We can usually eat right. Sleeping right may be affected by pain.

Another important aspect is finding our purpose – but this may just have been taken away from us: we have to find a new one. If we loved our job, for example, and can no longer do that job, this may affect our sense of purposefulness.

You can find more resources about looking after your mental health on the Head to Health website. This Australian Government website focuses on four broad aspects of life that can impact your mental wellbeing: physical healthconnectednesspurposeful activity, and feeling safe, stable and secure.

Find ways to decrease stress

This is something I have written about in the past.

Queensland Health says:

Stress can impact anyone and can affect your mental and physical wellbeing. While a little bit of stress can be a good thing, helping you to focus and perform well under pressure, ongoing stress is not healthy for your body or mind.

Let’s not beat around the bush – finding out we have a chronic disease IS STRESSFUL! Apart from the medical advice that stress may cause condition flares, which we don’t want, stress can impact our mental health and the vicious cycle starts. It is important for physically healthy people to manage their stress: it is absolutely vital for chronic disease patients to manage stress.

Take time out

Strongly recommend this one. With caution. For anyone with a chronic condition, self-care is critical. Brianna Wiest covers this well in This Is What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths And Chocolate Cake. For me, I might want it to be all hair appointments and manicures. Although I did have 20 grams of Lindt chocolate today.

True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.

So while we do need to take time out (have that manicure, watch a favourite TV program or enjoy a nice glass of wine), because we have to avoid the Boom Bust cycle, we need to be careful not to take so much time out that we sacrifice our very necessary self-care. We can no longer do as much in any given day as we could in the past. We can’t catch up tomorrow, necessarily.

Get help when needed

YES YES YES!!! From my personal experience I recommend talking to your GP early if you feel you are experiencing difficulty coping. Support such as Mental Health Care Plans are available under certain circumstances to help with the costs. Don’t keep soldiering on, support is out there, use it. I find just being able to vent in a safe environment immensely beneficial. Being proactive about our mental wellness is very important at any time: once we are a chronic disease patient it is absolutely critical.

Signs it’s time to seek professional help include:

  • you’ve been feeling sad, down, angry, depressed, numb or generally ‘not yourself’ all the time, for two weeks or more
  • the way you’re feeling is affecting your ability to cope at work, school or in your relationships.

You can start by talking to your GP, a trusted friend or family member who is a good listener, or by calling a helpline like beyondblue or Lifeline. If it’s an emergency and you think your life or someone else’s life is in danger, always call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.

Remember that only a trained health professional can diagnose you with a mental illness and offer treatment services.

Other Resources

“You can’t stop the waves
But you can learn to surf.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Daily Manic – corporate change consultant and advisor Jayne was diagnosed with life changing illness at the age of 44. She now uses her change management skills to help people slow down their lives, whether that be for reasons of illness or simply because they want to slow down.

Published by

Robyn Dunphy

I offer exercise guidance to those with chronic medical conditions where exercise is beneficial.

11 thoughts on “We Need Mental Health as well as Physical Health

  1. Love your article Robyn. I particularly love the definition of “Self Care” in terms of not over indulging on chocolate cake but building a life that you are happy to live with. Such an important message and concept, especially when you live with chronic disease that is debilitating.
    It was so important for me to find a new purpose in my life that I could be passionate about, after being forced to medically retire. This was definitely the biggest focus in my self-care plan.
    Sam xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sam. I really liked your acceptance article and have it earmarked as a resource for my next article.

      Purpose was my main struggle as well. I am passionate about exercise/movement as medicine. While I recognise not everyone can take that path, the many who can should.

      You are an inspiration given your situation!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much Robyn, I’m a huge believer in moving as much as possible no matter our physical limitations. I’ve been determIned to hold on to cleaning my own home as a way to ensure I move every day. I have a daily cleaning schedule which ensures a paced activity with a purpose and outcome that I can see. It gives me a wonderful feeling of achievement. I’ve found ingenious ways to use crutches 😊

        Liked by 1 person

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