Mind-Body Connection & Mental Illness
Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!
This past Saturday I participated in a 5K walk put on by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The course was crammed with people as we all walked in circles around the Dr Pepper ballpark in Frisco. By the end of the race, however, the course was nearly empty: over half of the participants had dropped out in favor of watching or chowing down on popcorn and snowcones. As my friends and I were completing the final two laps, the announcers were advocating that everyone grab a cocktail and food and hang out for a while for the live music performance.
I am all about having a good time and enjoying everything in balance with the rest of life. But if you can't finish a 5K walk (especially a walk for mental illness), is it really a good idea to inhale popcorn and snowcones? Or have a cocktail at 10AM?
This issue of physical wellbeing affecting mental wellbeing hit close to home since I have Bipolar Disorder. One of my biggest recovery challenges has been to keep my mind, body, and emotions healthy and balanced.
Mental illness can be so debilitating because it negatively affects not just your mind but also your willpower to take care of your body and emotions.
Recent mind-body research has helped us gain new appreciation for our bodies and how our physical health contributes to our mental health. Studies done by psychologist Johannes Michelak at the University of Bochum leveraged an optical capture system to analyze the walk and movements of depressed and nondepressed people. They found that the depressed volunteers walked more slowly, moved less, and slumped forward.
Furthermore, the research staff asked nondepressed participants to purposefully mimic depressed body language by slumping for a minute or more. These participants reported a decrease in mood, illustrating how a depressed body easily leads to a depressed mind and vice versa.
In the 21st century, we are often stuck slumping behind the wheel or leaning over our desk. But, it's hard for our brains to feel happy if our bodies spend the majority of the day sitting inside and working in front of screens. To maintain our mental and physical wellbeing in the midst of a grueling schedule, it's important to find small opportunities to stretch our legs or spend lunch hour outside.
Sometimes a 10-minute walk in the sunshine can shift our entire outlook on life.
I am so grateful that my own journey has led me to the ultimate coping mechanisms for mental illness: yoga. Yoga literally means union, or to yoke and unite the mind, body, and heart. When you practice yoga, you are nurturing all parts of yourself and bringing yourself into balance.
There is a reason Nikki Myers, founder of the Yoga for 12-Step Recovery, could complete addiction recovery only with the addition of yoga practice. As she famously shares, our issues are in our tissues. Everything is connected: mind, body, and heart.
"The issues are in our tissues."
--Nikki Myers, Yoga of 12-Step Recovery
Whether our goal is to lose weight, boost mood, or get along better with our partner, we can only achieve these wellness goals by taking our holistic health into account.