MIND + HEALTH
Georgia is a twenty-something, carving out her career, with time to devote to catching up with friends, spending quality time with her partner, having ‘me time’ to rest and recharge, and reviving herself through keeping fit and eating healthily.
Fast forward to her thirties, where life seems much busier. Not only have her responsibilities at work increased, she now has her own family as well as having taken on a carer role for her parents. Time with friends seems scarce, but not as scarce as time she has to focus on her own health. Gradually, she notices:
- Her fitness has worsened to the point where she easily feels breathless
- Her weight has crept up over the years and her BMI is borderline overweight/obese
- She’s too busy to prepare healthy meals so she lives on convenience foods and relies on comfort eating when she feel stressed or down
- Exercise seems like an absolute chore, and that’s when she actually has time for it
- She looks forward (just that little bit too much) to that glass of wine as a reward for an exhausting week
- She’s aware of her family history of Type 2 diabetes, but making the necessarily lifestyle changes without a clear benefit seems too hard
Sound familiar? That’s because it's an all too common scenario and one that we see many of our clients facing. So, how are mind and health connected and how can psychology help?
MIND AND HEALTH – THE CONNECTION
How are mind and health connected? Some more obvious connections as in Georgia’s case suggest that we can make poor health choices or find it hard to stick to healthy habits, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other ways in which mind and health are connected, including:
PREVENTING POOR HEALTH
The mind can play an important role in helping us take action to prevent major illnesses, including:
- Staying on track with preventative health-checks (e.g. skin cancer checks, pap smears, prostate checks) even though they are time-consuming, and potentially uncomfortable.
- Engaging in protective behaviours that make sense but in reality may result in compromise to our quality of life or enjoyment (e.g. being sun smart, having safe sex)
- Sticking to a plan for health prevention (e.g. sticking to a plan including healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep) when the benefits may seem too far away to contemplate, hard to measure, or not immediately apparent.
ADJUSTING TO HEALTH ISSUES
Health issues can crop up from time to time, and these changes may be permanent or temporary.
We may have a broken leg that requires a period of recovery. We may be diagnosed with heart disease and need to make long-term changes to our lifestyle habits. We may have sustained a permanent disability that affects our level of functioning and quality of life, and changes our identity and our relationships.
Our mind can impact on how well we adjust to these changes by helping us to:
- Develop acceptance and move towards adjusting to changes rather than getting stuck in anger and denial.
- Explore grief around changes to our life span, functioning, and quality of life as a result of health changes such as chronic disease or permanent disability.
- Come to terms with changes to our identity, self-esteem, and relationships.
TAKING ACTION TO IMPROVE OUR HEALTH
Our mind can play a real role in helping us to take action when it comes to our health in the following ways:
- Making lifestyle changes that have a direct impact on our health (e.g. changing diet for Type 2 diabetes, exercising for heart disease)
- Quitting harmful habits (e.g. excessive alcohol use, smoking)
- Taking prescribed medication when it is a daily hassle
- Maintaining motivation to stick with changes when the payoff seems so far away
- Preventing ‘lapses’ (e.g. reverting back to smoking or comfort eating) in the face of overwhelming temptation
So, as you can see, our minds really do play a significant role in how we see our health and what we do to keep us healthy.
HOW CAN PSYCHOLOGY HELP?
Let’s revisit Georgia’s situation. What can psychology do in her instance? Things that we could look at include:
- Taking stock of Georgia’s lifestyle and picture of health to identify areas to work on
- Developing a realistic picture as to her current circumstances in life and what gains are realistically achievable given her lifestyle
- Making the risks of Type 2 diabetes and the impact on her quality of life more tangible to her to spur her into action
- Enhancing her motivation to make changes to her diet and exercise by making them personally relevant to her (e.g. more energy and less breathlessness during the day)
- Breaking down barriers to healthy eating
- Changing the mindset that leads Georgia to rely on food to manage her moods
- Developing a sustainable exercise routine that takes into account her busy lifestyle
So you see, working on the mind can really have a positive impact on your health! What will you do to make a change to your health?
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