Physical health & depression – the mind body connection

The interaction between physical health and mental health

We all know that when we have a bad cold or even a mild headache it is not unusual to feel down or irritable. It is now becoming more and more recognised that our physical health can affect our mood, documents such as ‘Depression with a chronic physical illness’ (Department of Health, 2009) corroborate that. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that physical health conditions might also influence our mood.

For example if you have had a heart attack, major surgery or a chronic illness it is understandable why your condition may leave you feeling depression, anxiety or stress. I have used a cardiac example to illustrate the link between our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviour below.

Thoughts

  • First thought: Oh my God I am having another heart attack.
  • Second thought: I am not doing anything, my life is not worth living.

Emotions

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Feelings

  • Chest pains

Behaviour

  • Do less activity

The model highlights how having a negative thought can lead to a particular behavioural action i.e such as doing less activity which then leads to more negative thoughts and more heighten emotional experiences.

How depression alters thinking

When people are depressed, their thinking often changes, they may make some of the following errors such as exaggerating the negative. This means that you think things are much worse than they are, for example you make a small mistake at work and fear you will be sacked because of it. Another example may be you spend a long time worrying that you have upset a friend only to find later that he/she did not even remember the comment.

Helping depression with psychotherapy

So how can I break this cycle I hear you ask, well a clinical psychologist can help you change your perception about your situation, condition or circumstance using cognitive behavioural therapy. This is an evidence based psychological model which has a strong treatment effect.

If you have a physical health condition which has left you feeling depressed, fearful or anxious, a psychologist can help facilitate your adjustment to your condition, reduce fear and anxiety, promote a more positive attitude and facilitate behavioural change.

Counselling and Psychotherapy in CroydonAbout The Author

Dr Ndidi Ebubedike is a fully qualified Counsellor and Psychotherapist located in Croydon.

She specialises in working with common mental health problems and psychological difficulties in the context of physical health conditions such HIV, Diabetes, Stroke, Heart disease, Cancer, and Chronic Pain.

Find out more about Ndidi’s work by visiting her GoToSee profile page here


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