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Emotional wellbeing |  Physical and mental health

Physical and mental health connections

Just as difficult physical symptoms can sometimes be caused by mental states, physical activity and exercise can sometimes be the answer to difficult mental symptoms

By Lissy Edwards, DCC practitioner

Many people may have what are known as ‘medically unexplained symptoms’ ie. physical symptoms that do not have a physical cause. Research suggests that medically unexplained symptoms are often linked to mental health. Examples of medically unexplained symptoms might include pain, fatigue, heart palpitations, tingling in hands or feet and they account for up to 45% of all GP appointments.

Carers often tell us that they neglect their own health and prioritise the needs of the person with dementia and they often experience high levels of stress.  It’s important that you keep your appointments and should you experience new physical symptoms go and see your GP.  If no physical cause of the symptoms is identified then there are several options you might wish to talk through with your GP.  These include:

  • Whether you have anxiety or depression or are experiencing high levels of stress
  • Possible referral to a neurologist if the symptoms are related to the nervous system. Eg. tingling, numbness
  • Discussing lifestyle changes such as increasing opportunities for relaxation where possible
  • Discussing use of medication such as anti-depressants
  • If a referral for talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may help you as it can help you understand the links between your symptoms, your thoughts and feelings and your ways of coping.

There are also a number of things you can try to see if you can improve some of the medically unexplained physical symptoms you may be experiencing, such as taking regular exercise. Not only does this keep you fit, lots of people find it boosts their mood. It does this by:

  • Causing chemical changes in your brain that positively impact your mood
  • Giving you a sense of achievement

The best way to ensure you carry out regular exercise is to find something you enjoy doing, whether it’s dancing, cycling, swimming or Pilates. The NHS has lots of ideas about free exercise activities.

Stress has been linked to problems such as pain and irritable bowel syndrome so it’s important to think about ways you can manage stress. Some people find deep breathing exercises or meditation helps, for others it might be mindful movement such as walking or yoga or being out in nature, in the park or garden. Try to find what works for you.

Connecting with other people is important for good mental wellbeing; it gives us the opportunity to share experiences, give and receive emotional support and have a laugh which helps to build our sense of self-worth and identity outside of being a carer. This can be as simple as talking to someone instead of sending an email or text. Or arranging a time to call and have a conversation.

Mindfulness or paying attention to the present. Mindfulness brings awareness to the stream of thoughts and feelings we have and allows us to step back from this stream. Over time it help us notice when thoughts/feelings take over and allows us to gain more control over our emotions and our beliefs. Please see more info here (link to mindfulness in our relaxation section).

See for info about online mindfulness courses and resources.

Good nutrition is also key in influencing how we feel physically and mentally. Our diet can give us more energy, improve our mood and help us think more clearly. A Mediterranean style diet with of lots of fresh vegetables, seafood, garlic and is thought to help reduce symptoms of depression. Keeping hydrated is important and looking after your gut by eating gut healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, live yoghurt and probiotics. See more about the connection between food and mood here (link to food/mood factsheet under healthy eating).

So remember when you do something to improve your physical health you are also improving your mental health and vice versa.