By: Stuart White 11-01-2019
Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,
There I was all packed to go on holiday on the second of January and the last task, before setting off was putting the children’s car seat in the taxi. And that was the moment when an all too familiar agonising pain erupted in my back – one movement too many and my back seized. This was annoying to say the least. Just the day before I had commented to a friend how fit and healthy, I was feeling, referring to my flexibility and strength and how well my yoga practise is going. As far as my back was concerned I could bend it better than Beckham. With such mental euphoria and physical wellbeing I envisaged a beach holiday characterized by health and vitality, ,demonstrated by early morning, lotus-position salutations to the sun and the seas. I embodied the epitome of wellness, positivity and the good life.
And suddenly, en route this picture was rudely and cruelly shattered. The reality which unfolded was starkly different starting with my agonising step by step shuffle through OR Tambo airport at such a slow, torturous pace that I seriously considered wheelchair assistance. Ego trumped practicality and I soldiered onto the plane to lower myself to my seat accompanied with one distressful thought ‘how am I am going to get off at the other side, much less negotiate another airport?’
I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of my misfortune, suffice to say that 10 days of discomfort followed, albeit, with ever gradual improvement. None of the imagined frolicking in the waves or sun salutations. Instead, however, all my effort was directed to the accomplishment of simple tasks like putting on a pair of shorts, sitting down and standing up. The word ‘miserable’ comes to mind and the thought ‘incapacitated’ isn’t far away and their presence was like an unwanted song playing on repeat in my mind with no ‘off’ switch.
More debilitating than the physical aches however was my mood. Robbed of physical competence my mental wellbeing was simultaneously affected by a bout of melancholy. I was surprised how easily I plummeted into a feeling of despair and it wasn’t simply because I had a sore back. I felt that I was fighting a war in two fronts and I was under attack from two directions. Battling two aliments at the same time caught me off guard. Nothing matched. The plan was great holiday destination, time with family, no work, rest and relaxation. The execution was painful damage and then painful damage control. It felt as though there was a conspiracy between my physical and mental being to screw it all up.
I know that a change in one system can affect another and that there is a strong link between mental health and physical health, although little is known about the pathways from one to the other. Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization, the psychiatrist who shepherded the notion that mental and physical health were intimately linked, famously stated that “without mental health there can be no true physical health”. More than half a century later, there is strong evidence elucidating the bidirectional relationship between mental illnesses – specifically depression and anxiety – and physical health outcomes.
It has been proven in studies that people with any chronic physical disease tend to feel more psychological distress than do healthy people. Poor physical health brings an increased risk of depression, as do the social and relationship problems that are very common among chronically ill patients.
Some more facts to stress my point:
· Up to 50% of cancer patients suffer from a mental illness, especially depression and anxiety
· Treating symptoms of depression in cancer patients may improve survival time, thus the mental affects the physical
· In patients who are depressed, the risk of a heart attack is more than twice as high as in the general population and further
· Depression increases the risk of death in patients with cardiac disease
Similarly studies have also shown that mental health problems have a causal effect on physical wellbeing
1) A recent study by King’s College London showed the link between severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression and cardiovascular disease, finding they were at a 53% higher risk. The risk of dying from the disease was also 85% higher than people of a similar age in the general population.
2) A study earlier this year discovered that there was a link between high levels of mental distress and an increased risk of dying from cancer. The researchers took into account potential factors that could distort the data like age, sex, body mass index, education, smoking and alcohol consumption.
3) Studies have revealed a connection between depression and diabetes. Those with both conditions were also 85% more likely to have a heart attack.
4) Studies have shown that people living with schizophrenia are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and are more likely to experience hip fractures. Having schizophrenia almost doubles chances of having low bone density and one in two people with schizophrenia will also have low bone mass.
So there it is! Sore back and depression or depression and sore back whatever way you look at it, we can be at risk at one thing in our system going wrong and then the whole system is affected. It reminds me how holistic my approach to wellbeing must be and the need for balance. In my own case I have devoted a lot of time in the past few months to my physical wellbeing with a better yoga practise to show for it, but I have been nothing more than frugal with the maintenance of my psychological wellbeing. I know this because had my psyche been stronger, I wouldn’t have taken the knock that I did.
When we are ill or injured and something is not working as it should, the body is out of balance and this imbalance causes our body to react more intensely, sometime shutting down in order to heal itself – illness is the body healing and this is one of the ways that the body re-balances itself. Despite my 10 days of awkwardness, doom and gloom I realise now that there is a need to balance movement and stillness. According to Holistic Health Consultant, Lana Lensman, if we push or move too fast our body will respond by going into protection mode, slowing down or stopping the flow of movement, resulting in a backlog of energy. If we are too distracted, interrupting the flow of consciousness from coming in our body we will send signals of alert to wake us up.
Resistance to what is, is never a good strategy and when I stopped resisting, I could start listening with intelligence. What I wanted was a good holiday where I could recharge my batteries and come back stronger because that’s what breaks are all about. During most of the holiday I could not see the wood for the trees and resented the sore back and low mood. I understand now that I did exactly what I needed to in those last 10 days when all I could concentrate on was mental down time in the form of an emotional slump and where physical activities were reduced to the menial…it’s a clever thing the body-mind relationship and when they work in harmony together it’s actually genius. In my case the one clearly consulted with the other and concluded that I needed to ease off strenuous exercise and repair my overstretched mind and between them they forced the issue. I have listened and learned that this year fully intend to heed their intrinsic wisdom more often.