The Connection Between Mental and Physical Health

Posted on October 25, 2023   |   

This post was written by: Amanda Atkinson, MSN, RN.

We live in a changing world where it seems like the pressures around us grow every day. Mental wellness has never been more important. Mental well-being is not just trendy or a buzzword, it is an important part of our overall health and happiness. Just as we make the health of our body a priority, we must also make our mental wellness a priority. Some people think that these two parts of us are separate. In reality, they are tightly connected.

Dr. Kiran Palande and I discuss some common questions about how your mental health and physical health are connected.

Dr. Palande is a passionate Cardiopulmonary Physiotherapist from Mumbai, India. She received a Master of Physiotherapy in Cardiorespiratory Sciences from NMIMS University. In her current role, she especially enjoys connecting with her patients through pulmonary rehab (an exercise program for those with lung conditions) and is a member of the COPD Foundation's State Captain program. Dr. Palande believes that pulmonary rehab is an essential aspect of care for people with lung conditions.

Dr. Palande, can you talk to us about how a person's mental health can affect their physical health?

Physical and emotional health are connected.

Maintaining good physical health improves lung function while supporting good mental health reduces stress and worry. Both of these can worsen a lung condition. Mental and physical health have an unbreakable connection.

Regular exercise, a good diet, and pulmonary rehab can help to improve lung function. Meanwhile, controlling stress and anxiety with relaxation techniques helps both mental and lung health. For an all-inclusive approach, both mental and physical health must be a focus.

What are some ways that a person can overcome limits and shame surrounding talking about mental wellness?

When a patient is first diagnosed with a lung condition, it is common for them to be worried. Accepting a diagnosis can be difficult. It is important to get educated about common thoughts and feelings related to having a lung condition. This can make it easier for someone to open up about how they are feeling.

It is important to remember that not all days are the same. We all have good days and bad days that we deal with. Every day is different for everyone. Your experiences and feelings are valid, and it is okay to talk about them. In fact, it is an important step to healing.

I have noticed that many people are still hesitant to talk about their emotions. Joining a support group for people with similar lung conditions can bring a sense of connection and understanding. This can often help lessen concerns about talking about your mental wellness.

What are some ways that a person can help improve their mental wellness?

It may help some people to get support in managing depression or anxiety due to their lung disease. Others may find help by using stress reduction techniques. Every individual is different, and what would help them can be different too. If you are not sure what you need, talk to your health care provider (HCP) about your feelings. They can help suggest ways that you can support your mental well-being. Talking to family and friends may help you to come up with ways to focus on your mental health.

How can caregivers help?

Some people might naturally bring up mental health concerns. For others, it might be helpful to introduce the topic gently and offer resources if needed.

Always try to be understanding and create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings. It is important to remember that everyone's experiences are different and real to them. Listening without judgment is very important.

Understanding that everyone handles their feelings in a unique way will help you relate to your loved one. Asking questions, letting them process, and making suggestions without giving answers can help them move toward feeling confident in taking charge of their mental wellness.

It is also really important that caregivers learn about their loved one's illness and how it may affect their mental health. This will help caregivers to better understand the challenges their loved ones may face. Creating a supportive and understanding surrounding for the patient as well as the caregiver may help to lead to better well-being for both the person with a chronic lung condition and their caregivers.

Caregivers must also remember that they are important people too. Sometimes when we are caring for others, we neglect our own physical and mental well-being. It is vital to take time for self-care. Everyone's situation is different but try to make time to do something that brings you joy. Care for yourself while you are caring for others.

Are there mental health resources you share in your program?

As a pulmonary physiotherapist, my focus is on respiratory health and rehabilitation. I think it is important to address mental health along with physical health. I do offer some general stress management and relaxation techniques to patients to help people cope with their feelings surrounding their condition. It is important to remember that visiting a mental health professional for support can help to address specific mental health concerns.

The COPD Foundation has many resources that can help you navigate your COPD journey as it relates to mental wellness. Visit the downloads library and check out our Coping with COPD guide and other helpful resources. You can also learn more about pulmonary rehabilitation here. Talk to your doctor to see if it may be right for you.

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