woman doing yogaIf you’re an athlete, your physical health is likely already of utmost importance to you. Staying in good physical health means staying on the field, in the gym, on the trail, or anywhere else your body takes you. This importance means that when an athlete suffers a physical injury, they often consult a whole team of professionals, including doctors, trainers, and physical therapists(opens in a new tab), to aid them in recovery. However, an athlete may not seek out or receive a similar level of care when suffering from a mental health issue.

It’s important to know that mental health issues are just as important to address as physical health issues. Plus, athletes are just as vulnerable to mental health issues as non-athletes. For example, look at Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka. This past summer, these two incredible athletes dropped out of Tokyo Olympic Games events and the French Open, respectively, both citing mental health concerns as the reason for their departures. These events sparked public conversations about mental health in athletics, exposing a lot of stigma around the topic. Luckily, these athletes’ efforts to protect their mental health also allowed more people to see how important mental health is, as well as how mental and physical health is connected.

Physical vs Mental Health

To best understand how mental and physical health are connected, it’s important to understand what the terms mental and physical health refer to.

Physical health refers to the well-being of an individual’s body, inside and out. Good physical health is most often achieved by staying active and eating well, which can help prevent diseases that weaken the body. Athletes are very familiar with this aspect of overall health, knowing to seek out help when they become injured or sick.

Mental health is a broad term that refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Problems with mental health are more common than many think and can arise from lived experiences, chemical imbalances in the brain, and a family history of mental health problems. However, an individual doesn’t have to have a diagnosable disorder to have issues with their mental health. Athletes may not report issues with their mental health due to the stigma around it.

There are many reasons to take care of and seek help for your mental health. However, for some athletes, knowing the physical ramifications of poor mental health may be the most motivating reason. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine(opens in a new tab), 1 in 4 American adults will suffer from a mental disorder every year, with depressive and anxiety disorders being the most common.

Depression and Your Body

Depression is related to disorders like major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and others. Depression causes intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loneliness, as well as issues with decision-making and memory. Alongside these problems, depression can also take a serious toll on a person’s physical health, causing issues like:

  • Weight fluctuation: Depression can cause some people to overeat and others to undereat, leading to either weight gain or weight loss. These weight changes can lead to subsequent issues, like obesity-related illnesses or nutritional deficiencies.
  • Fatigue and insomnia: People with depression may experience fatigue, or decreased energy levels, throughout the day, but they may also experience insomnia, or trouble sleeping, at night.
  • Heart issues: Depression causes an increase of stress hormones in the body, which in turn causes constricted blood vessels and a heightened heart rate. Over time, this overworking of the heart can cause heart disease or a heart attack.
  • Pain: Increased back, joint, and limb pain has also been linked to depression, as well as worsened headaches.

Anxiety and Your Body

Anxiety is a common symptom of mental health issues, including many different disorders, like panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety feels different to each person experiencing it, though common feelings include butterflies in the stomach, racing heartbeat, rapid breathing, restlessness, and trouble concentrating. Anxiety can also cause anxiety attacks, panic attacks, depression, and a sense of impending doom. Anxiety can affect the body in other ways, as well, including:

  • Adrenaline and cortisol: When the body experiences anxiety, the brain releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The release of these hormones can cause headaches and dizziness, and when introduced to the body too often, cortisol can lead to weight gain.
  • Heart issues: Like depression, the regular release of these stress hormones can lead to constricted blood vessels and a rapid heartbeat, in turn leading to an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack.
  • Weakened immunity: When anxiety has a person on constant alert, the chronic influx of stress hormones can throw off and weaken the immune system. Cortisol, in particular, can decrease the number of white blood cells in the body, worsening the body’s ability to fight off infection and disease.
  • Stomach issues: Anxiety can affect the digestive system, leading to stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea. Anxiety disorders may also cause the development of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

What You Can Do

Luckily, there are things you can do to help avoid mental illness and physical health problems, both big and small, including:

  • Reaching out to trusted friends and family members, as well as contacting mental health professionals.
  • Drinking smarter by hydrating with water throughout the day and cutting out drinks with lots of caffeine, like coffee, which can increase anxiety.
  • Eating healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Relaxing with meditation, deep breathing, and yoga to reduce stress.

Let us take care of all of you. At Performance Unlimited, we understand that your mind and body work together to make you who you are, so we offer health & wellness coaching to support both your physical and mental health. To start a wellness plan tailor-made to you, reach out to schedule an appointment online today!