It’s not often well known, but a mental health disorder can affect your body as well as your mind. Your brain and your body are closely connected, so when one part of you has a problem, it’s reflected in the other. Sometimes it can be hard to realize that a physical symptom or discomfort is the result of a mental health disorder. Learning about the most common types of physical symptoms can help you obtain a diagnosis, which is vital in finding the right treatment.
The general rule of thumb is that if symptoms persist for more than two weeks, then it’s time to speak with a doctor or mental health professional.
Common Triggers for a Mental Health Disorder
Before you know what physical symptoms to keep an eye out for, you must first understand what triggers the development of a mental health disorder. If you are generally happy with nothing serious going on, a physical symptom is usually not the result of your mental state. In this case, it could be a physical illness, or maybe even an allergy, that could be bothering you. However, if you are experiencing mental turmoil, or experience stress and trauma, physical symptoms can result from that.
Understanding your mental state is important when getting a diagnosis. It’s important to be honest when speaking to your treatment provider, as they are there to help you. They will never judge you for what is going on in your life. If it helps, keep a journal or diary. Looking back on what you wrote can help determine the source of your physical and mental symptoms.
Common triggers for mental health disorders include:
Trauma: Experiencing a traumatic event is the source of many anxiety-based disorders. Examples include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Stress: Living or working in a stressful environment can cause physical symptoms if self-care is not practiced to reduce stress.
Significant life changes: Events such as the loss of a loved one, moving away, changing or losing a job, having a child, or even starting a relationship can sometimes trigger a change in someone’s mental health.
Engaging in substance use: Some substances, like drugs and alcohol, can change a person’s brain chemistry. Excessive substance use results in a substance use disorder (SUD). This is often a symptom and cause of other mental health disorders.
Genetics: Sometimes, people are born with a genetic predisposition to certain mental health disorders. In other cases, someone may be born with a different brain structure compared to other people. Being aware of family history is important when it comes to making a diagnosis.
Physical Symptoms Associated With a Mental Health Disorder
Many physical symptoms can result from poor mental health. The gut (digestive system) is closely tied to our mental health. Experiencing a change in how our gut functions can often be a warning sign that there has been a change in our mental state. Some common symptoms related to the gut to look out for are:
- A change in appetite
- Stomach or gut pain
- Digestive issues
- Unplanned weight changes
For anxiety-based disorders, the physical symptoms are the result of an active nervous system. This is because the body is in a constant fight-or-flight mode, which affects the nerves, heart, and muscles. Common physical symptoms of an anxiety-based disorder include:
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Headaches and migraines
- Muscle pain and tension
- Tremors and shaking
Perhaps the most common mental health disorder that people experience in their lifetime is depression. Those with depression can experience the physical symptoms above, as well as:
- Lack of energy or fatigue
- Difficulties sleeping or waking up at odd times
- Brain fog, which makes it difficult to concentrate or make decisions
Chronic mental health disorders also have the added problem of lowering someone’s immune system. Our immune system health relies a lot on how well we are nourished and rested. If a person cannot get adequate rest or nutrition, their immune system suffers.
Getting Help for Your Symptoms
If you are experiencing chronic physical symptoms, it’s important to seek help. Sometimes it helps to have someone you love and trust with you as your advocate. That way, if a doctor attempts to be dismissive of your symptoms, you have someone in your corner to back you up. Everyone deserves to have their symptoms taken seriously. Remember that you can get a second opinion if you feel you weren’t given satisfactory answers. You don’t have to stick with one doctor for your treatment.
For mental health, it’s helpful to tell your provider what is going on in your life that you feel may be causing or making symptoms worse. You don’t have to go into detail before you are ready, but it’s important to be honest. A treatment provider can help you record and track your symptoms. The improvement or worsening of symptoms can help them find the right treatment options that will work for you. Some may even use a holistic approach, as sometimes a change in diet or exercise can help improve your mental health.
Remember, what you are experiencing is valid. Nobody deserves to be in pain or struggle alone. There are always people out there waiting to help you. You only need to reach out and ask for it.
Our brains and our bodies are closely linked. When one is struggling, the other will struggle too. It’s important in mental health care to listen to what our bodies are telling us. Our bodies can help a mental health professional diagnose a client so they can prescribe the right treatment. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we offer a holistic approach to treatment. This means that we treat the whole body, not just the mind. This way, a person can heal both physically and mentally, making them a healthier person. Nobody deserves to be in pain or struggle alone. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder, call (949) 647-4090.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.