Good health necessarily denotes the wellbeing of a whole person, that is, an optimally functioning physical body along with a robust, satisfying mental activity and emotional stability. When physical presentations trouble a person, visiting a medical practitioner appears to be a commonly accepted and often encouraged practice. However, how often do we pay attention to, and act on, our mental and emotional tribulations?
There could be many reasons for the reluctance to acknowledge and address psychological difficulties, starting with a fear of judgement from our families, friends and colleagues. We are also conscious of the social stigma as spread through the media; the stigma which implies that difficulties in mental wellbeing diminish worthiness of the affected individuals. But the fact is that one does not need to be pathologically ‘mentally ill’ or ‘dangerously unstable’ to benefit from the mental health assistance.
Our social structures have been set in such a way that at some point in life everyone is bound to experience stress. It may be finishing school, passing university exams, finding employment, providing for families, or having fulfilling relationships. Stress is also a part of the challenge of physical illness, either our own or that of our loved ones, and is present at times of losing our cherished relations. While stress is so prevalent in our lives, it is both an early sign and a potential trigger for the sprouting of psychological difficulties. Chronic stress can lead to complications such as depression, anxiety and other affective disorders. It can also contribute to cardiovascular disease, skin and hair problems, gastro-intestinal problems and sexual dysfunction. Stress prevention and early intervention therefore make perfect sense.
To recognise the symptoms of stress, we need to direct our attention to different aspects of our functioning:
- Our emotions – do we tend to feel moody, frustrated or angry, or ‘not good enough’, find it hard to relax, or avoid others?
- Our physical health – notice fluctuations in our sleep patterns, energy levels, sexual desire, muscular tension, headaches, heart-rate, digestion, and susceptibility to colds or infections.
- And importantly, we need to become aware of what our mind is doing – do our thoughts race or overwhelm us, how well can we focus, how well can we remember things, how much do we worry, do we see the world in the most negative light, are we organised and make decisions with ease?
Although we exert our effort and resources to care for our bodies, we may sometimes neglect our mental care. Effective and total self-care, however, needs to involve both: the mind and the body. The notion of the separation of the body and mind has been long discarded, and emphasis are now clearly set on good health as the result of synchronicity between optimal wellbeing of these two aspects of ourselves.
Pro Psychology SA, Dr Margaret Prysak, Psychologist