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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

3 Reasons Why Mental Health Is So Important

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3 Reasons Why Mental Health Is So Important

Mental health matters. Taking care of our mental health aids in our resilience and recovery from anything that happens.

Anyone can have a bad day, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad life. How we respond to it and take care of our mental health are what’s important.

Mental health is important at every stage of our lives. It encompasses our overall wellbeing and affects our lives in many ways.

Why Is Mental Health Important?

Research shows that one in five adults in America – 43.8 million people – experience mental illness, which is 18.5% of our total population.[1] This means that mental health issues frequent our population and affect everything we do.

According to HealthyPeople.gov, “neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States.”[2] Left untreated, mental illness creates widespread disability. It stops us from showing up to each day, stifles our abilities, and slows our pace.

Unfortunately, suicide rates rise when mental health is neglected. Mental health is important because it affects everything. It affects our ability to cope, adapt, and solve problems. It also affects our ability to be happy, productive, and well adjusted.

Mental health is a topic that gets stigmatized so often in our society. If someone is having a mental health issue, they are less likely to get help because of that stigma and shame.

But there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The wirings of your brain are not your fault. Yet, we act like it is our fault and discount its importance.

Mental illness also gets misunderstood by those who have never experienced it. It becomes up to us to advocate for our needs and educate others about our issues.

We become experts of “lived experience.”

There is a spectrum of how we experience things. We may sometimes lose control but regain it overall. Or we may experience the extremes of high and low emotions and not be able to cope. We may fall somewhere in between.

Things unravel when left untreated. But that doesn’t mean that it becomes too late. Anything’s possible. When we remember that, we give ourselves a fighting chance again.

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There are three reasons why mental health is so important.

1. Mental Health Affects Physical Health

If someone had cancer, we would not blame them for this disease in their bodies. So why do we place stigma and blame on mental health issues in the brain?

Mental illness matters just as much as any disease, and it can take one’s life as easily as any other.

Depression, for example, can lead to suicidal ideations and if untreated, suicidal attempts. We are not balanced people if we only focus on physical health.

The mind and the body are connected. Many mental ailments cause stress, which lowers the immune system. This means more frequent sickness and inability to cope.

Stress and anxiety can take a toll on our physical health. According to WebMD, “worry causes the body to release stress hormones that speed up your heart rate and breathing, raise your blood sugar, and send more blood to your arms and legs. Over time, this can affect your heart, blood vessels, muscles, and other systems.”[3]

When stress infiltrates our body, we start to shut down. How we cope with stress is everything. Untreated mental health issues can lead to further falling apart.

Many people turn to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms, affecting their overall health and stability. When they don’t treat themselves right, it becomes a cycle of destructive behavior. This affects their physical wellbeing and can continue to snowball.

One’s stress affects one’s physical wellbeing and ability to take care of themselves, and this may cause destructive patterns.

When we reach this point, we sometimes only then learn that mental health is important. We must not ignore it, or other areas of our lives may suffer.

2. End Stigma and Shame to Lead Better Lives

It’s important to talk about mental health, so others can also come forward about it

Psych Central discusses how when we feel ashamed of ourselves, it is because we perceive we are broken or not normal. It affects our ability to cope when we think of ourselves so lowly.[4]

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Part of the process of healing is turning those feelings around. Our imperfections do not mean a lack of worth. When we realize that, we can also help others turn these feelings around and accept themselves.

Stigma begets shame. Shame begets destructive behaviors. Destructive behaviors beget a deterioration of the self.

Stigma spreads when we do not talk about mental health and its importance.

When it comes down to it, those who are mentally ill must need treatment. But without awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding their condition, they won’t feel comfortable reaching out to somebody for help. This enforces stigma and encourages more struggle and shame.

When we don’t get to say something, we give it more power.

In “Name It to Tame It”, a common exercise about emotions, we take the power of emotion away by naming it. Without talking about our emotions, they become more powerful and get more hold over us and others’ lives.

When we talk to each other, the problem becomes smaller with less hold over our lives. We can free each other by not being ashamed of mental health ourselves.

When we become authentic, we reclaim power over our lives. By denying the existence and importance of mental health, we deny ourselves. We lose our ability to solve problems and find solutions in our daily lives.

Without shame though however, we can say “I am not my mental illness. I am more than it. I am not afraid to talk about it because it is not my fault.”

When we do this, we empower ourselves and the world. We learn to listen to our triggers and warning signs so that we do not spiral, and we show greater compassion towards others experiencing it. This makes a more connected world overall.

“One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you went through, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.” -Unknown

When we help ourselves, we also help others. We can pay attention to the world and make it a kinder, more loving place. We can determine what problems need to be solved by acknowledging our own, and we can share our stories in making that happen. We take away the shame.

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3. Mental Health Affects Everything

Our mental health affects how we cope with life. Lack of treatment leads to hopelessness and sadness, worthlessness, feeling guilty, anxiety and worry, fear, and loss of control.

Our relationships may suffer. Our performance in any situation such as school or work may decline. Withdrawal and isolation may happen.

We may also lose interest in things we once enjoyed. Task completion and time management may fall apart. It may also become difficult for us to concentrate, or one may have rumination and focus on cleaning or organizing.

Our relationship with food may change. We may have ups and downs, and racing thoughts can happen more often.

Life may become overwhelming. If we are having severe mental health issues, we may start to lose touch with reality and even hear voices.

Self-harm may happen. Destructive patterns such as alcohol and drug use may strike, and suicidal ideations may be the final result. Overall, things will fall apart if we don’t take mental health seriously.

If you experience any of these issues, it’s time to reach out for help.

Mental health issues are important. It’s important to learn and care about them because if we don’t, all the aforementioned things could happen. We can’t function if we’re not doing well.

But when we turn this around and have good mental health, many good things can happen:

  • We learn to cope again.
  • We become healthy in all aspects.
  • Our relationships no longer suffer.
  • We find meaning in our day to day lives.
  • We become more involved in our community.
  • We are more productive at school or at work.
  • We can be the person we are meant to be.

When we feel better, we do better.

Mental health affects everything. It affects our nature and how we interact with the world and ourselves.

Without good mental health, we are susceptible to not knowing our full worth and struggling with things that are beyond our control. When we ignore mental health, we ignore ourselves.

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We must value our health and wellness as much as we value anything, if not more. We must learn that we are good enough – that we are worthy of compassion and that others are too.

This leads us to have higher standards. It helps us feel sad if we want to feel sad, accepting our state of mind. And it also helps us do something about it.

We don’t have to wait to feel better – we can feel better today simply by acknowledging our struggles as real and worth paying compassionate attention towards.

We don’t need to solve every problem, but we can ask for help if things get too much. Then and only then do we gain some sense of control again over our lives.

Final Thoughts

We all deserve to have peace of mind. Mental health is important because we deserve that.

If we only knew how worthwhile we were, we could take over the world. It’s our own limiting thoughts that hold us back, as we think that we are not normal or broken or not worthwhile.

The truth is that the mind can lie. It can hold us back. And yet it is also the source of everything good we experience.

It doesn’t make anyone less of a person for experiencing mental health issues. When we value mental health, we lead better lives. It doesn’t mean everything will be better overnight, but we can learn how to value ourselves so we can improve over time.

Mental health is as important as physical health. We must end the stigma because mental health affects everything. When we remember that, we can turn it all around. And it’s never too late to do exactly that.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

Good luck.

Tips on Improving Your Mental Health

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] National Alliance on Mental Illness: Mental Health By the Numbers
[2] HealthyPeople.gov: Mental Health and Mental Disorders
[3] WebMD: How Worry Affects Your Body
[4] Pysch Central: When You Feel Shame About Your Mental Illness

More by this author

Sarah Browne

Sarah is a speaker, writer and activist

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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