Not consciously, however, we are just so bombarded to think differently – be it stigma about poor mental health equating to weakness or any form of health for that matter; be it companies using advertising to try and tell us what is and what is not physical health and how we can achieve it by buying XYZ, or even society’s strange focus on productivity and burnout culture linking with self-worth, and leaving us high and dry with poor health of all kinds.
However, the Oxford dictionary is getting there, as it defines ‘health’ as simply:
“the condition of a person’s body or mind.”
Myths about health
So, what next then? It made me think the best way to start exploring what IS health, we should firstly probably consider what it ISN’T.
1. The curse of ‘Healthy’
Let’s go back to this. In my opinion I would like to state my case here that the word ‘healthy’ isn’t real – it’s made up to market things to you inferring they are ‘healthiER’ than other choices without actually saying it. They probably legally can’t be due to whatever weird substitutes or ingredients they have included, and of course they cannot legitimately promise you will be healthier because they don’t know your own body make up, your experiences as a child, your current life stressors etc. All those other things that make you human. But they can say it’s a ‘healthy’ choice. Meaningless. Trust me, I work in marketing, I can tell.
2. Mental health isn’t poor mental health
This is my biggest gripe, where ‘mental health’ is used as the term referring to ‘poor mental health’ – I’ve got mental health is simply a statement of fact, like I personally have two arms. Please can we start being clearer and not giving mental health such a bad rap – calling the media!
Nobody would say this about physical health, in fact do a little test for me right now to explain what I mean. Google ‘physical health’ images and then search ‘mental health’ images – do both of those represent truthfully? I bet not.
I wonder if you found physical health to be beautiful, colourful likely ‘fit’ people exercising together, smiling and drinking juices. Why would you not see anyone with what is considered poor physical health here, such as someone overweight, having a heart attack, breathing desperately through an inhaler…?
However, I wonder if you also found with ‘mental health’, the dreaded head in hands, dark colours, someone looking depressed, someone crying, often young people are featured here or men, and nearly always they are seen alone. Why am I not seeing people practicing good mental health care? No meditation, or yoga, nobody walking by the sea smiling or spending time with friends?
As a marketing person in this industry, it will always be my biggest campaign beyond any others we are running.
Health is all: One body, mind and soul
We are humans, the world’s most complex creatures and much more than simply a bag of organs wandering around aimlessly across the earth’s planes. I know you know all this and please don’t take my tone as patronising – it often leaves me feeling bereft working in the mental health sector and having to keep reiterating this point and leads me to feel that I need to put it out there in black and white for all – we are more than just physical entities.
Really interesting things to know about this:
1. They both affect one another.
“Physical health and emotional health are intimately intertwined in what’s known as the mind-body connection. Our chemistry and biology impact our mood and emotions, as well as thoughts and beliefs. With all of these factors combined, they play a major role in influencing our stress and physical health.(1)”
Just as much as our physical state can affect our minds, our minds can indeed affect our bodies.
Think about anxiety, something I have lived with for a while; symptoms I have gone through have been very physical including, dizziness, heart palpitations, panic attacks, insomnia, bruxism and even my posture can change – causing my shoulders to round, where my body was making itself smaller to be protective (which I then learned this act of shoulder rounding can in turn tell our brains to be afraid and go into fight/ flight). So, straighten up quick!
I went to the doctors initially and had all the blood tests, took more iron, magnesium etc. And it turned out mostly it was my body shouting to say, ‘excuse me but there’s something mentally you’re not dealing with, so you’re enjoying a super dose of anxiety to try and listen and resolve’. Aren’t we just amazing beings?
My favourite book of all time ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ taught me so much about this, and how our mental health has an enormous impact on our physical health on a cellular level. This Mental Health Foundation piece also goes into a little more detail.
A weird and wonderful thing I discovered which feels a bit like a superpower when you live with anxiety – our minds are amazing and yes, they can indeed affect our physical bodies, but we can use our consciousness to help direct this more positively – for example faking a smile can in fact trick your brain into releasing actual real-life endorphins.
Gratitude has a lot to answer for here too. Thank goodness.
“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.(2)”
2. Emotional health is a thing too.
According to our friends at the Samaritans, emotional health is defined as:
“Emotional health is about how we think and feel. It is about our sense of wellbeing, our ability to cope with life events and how we acknowledge our own emotions as well as those of others. It doesn’t mean being happy all of the time.(3)”
For starters, it’s not the same thing as mental health. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, emotional health “focuses on being in tune with our emotions, vulnerability, and authenticity,” says licensed psychologist Juli Fraga, PsyD. (4)
So, in this instance I would argue emotional health is health too. Of course, my focus and energy are about campaigning for mental health, however really, for our best wellbeing, we simply need to consider health as a whole self. We cannot compartmentalise these parts of ourselves, and to try and do so would be detrimental to all types of health; we should consider the best way to look after them all and be unafraid of who that makes us and take our places in the world.
3. Don’t forget about the guts.
Believe it or not, nearly 80% of our immune system lies within our guts, it is also the place where the majority of serotonin (the happy hormone) is created and so how can we even begin to separate out these two systems? What we feed our physical bodies and how we treat our physical minds (remember our minds are physical too!) and how we look after our mental and emotional health, will greatly impact the health of our innards and therefore our guts. The very centre of our being that returns the favour and looks after us in so many ways!
I encourage you to read more on this when you have time, I repeat we are just so fascinating!
Feed them all
My best advice for your overall wellbeing, from working in this role and in looking after my own whole self’s health…
Feed them all; mind, body and soul.
- Be playful
- Drink water
- Learn new things
- Move your body
- Breathe deeply regularly
- Be courageous
- Connect with others often
- Realise what makes you feel flow and do it daily
- We are all creative beings so express yourself!
I couldn’t get away without mentioning of course the amazing Five Ways to Wellbeing which most of these very quick tips above touch upon in some way.
I read once the opposite to depression is expression, and I could not have put it better.
Anytime I have felt the world on my shoulders pushing down on me – I find a way to turn it around, literally with inversions in yoga, trying to do a handstand or learning a new balance. Or mindful colouring, crafting with my daughter (any excuse for stickers and glitter) or even just singing loudly in the car to trashy 90s tunes. Let it out! Express!
Therefore, when it comes to health. Yes, mental health is health and should be considered as a vital part of all of us – but so are the other parts in equal measure. They belong together and work marvelously in unison.
Next time you think about your health, consider tuning into the whole picture. Work on little things to improve all health and each will feed into one another, a little goes a long way! And question any advice you’re seeing or hearing and think about the agenda behind this, does it have your overall health top of mind or something else? You know what’s best for you, you just have to listen.
- J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2009 Spring;21(2):114-25. EMBO Rep. 2006 Apr; 7(4): 358–361. Soc Work Health Care. 2008;46(4):17-37. Cancer. 2015 Feb 1;121(3):476-84. Ann Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr-Jun; 28(2): 203–209.
Thank you to Marketing & PR Team Leader, Kirsty Clegg, for her position on what is ‘health’ and how mental health is a vital component.
Help and Support:
Dorset Mind offers group support that can also help with your well-being. The group offers peer support. They help to reduce stigma by normalising conversations about mental health. You can also check out further support for stress and mental health here. You’ll find links for 1-2-1 and groups of mental health support we offer here. If you’re in a crisis, treat it as an emergency. Call 999 immediately or The Samaritans, FREE on 116 123. NHS Dorset’s Helpline ‘Connection’ can be reached on 0800 652 0190. It’s also available 24/7.
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