Navigating your mental health can be difficult. It can especially be difficult when your mental health is affected by your physical health. It’s time to know more about your mental health, how weight may affect it and how you can help yourself.
Mental Illness Vs. General Stress
Experiencing a wide range of emotions is both healthy and normal. Most people will experience stress and periods of feeling down or blue from time to time. However, a good way to determine if your stress or sadness are more serious and may require treatment is to pay attention to how that stress and your mood impact your everyday life. If you are unable to complete work, school or family obligations, or you are unable to take care of yourself or other dependents, you should seek help. If you are still able to get things done and take care of yourself, but you feel sad, down or very stressed for more than a few days in a row and have difficulty getting even temporary relief, you should also consider reaching out for help. However, you do not need to wait until you are suffering to get help and support for your mental health. Proactive mental health care is good for just about everyone.
Mental and Physical Health
Mental and physical health are very closely intertwined. There is also evidence that mental health impacts cardiovascular health through both direct biological mechanisms and indirect behavioral effects. You may have noticed this connection in your everyday life experiences, too. Ever been stressed and unable to sleep? What about feeling sick to your stomach or having GI issues when you are nervous? If you pay attention, you will probably find your own evidence that the health of your mind and body are closely related.
Obesity and Mental Health
While we know that obesity and mental health are related, not everyone who has obesity has mental health issues, and vice versa. Describing the nature of the relationship, understanding issues of causality, and sorting through how to address the connection of mental health and obesity are all important questions that are yet to be fully answered. We do know that there is a complex relationship between obesity and mental health and it is equally important to care for both your physical and mental health in a proactive way.
Having obesity does not guarantee a person’s mental health will be negatively impacted. However, for many people with obesity, the experience of weight stigma and bias contributes significantly to stress, anxiety and depression and can lower one’s self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. Moreover, many people with obesity experience teasing, shaming, bullying and discrimination, as children and as adults. Such negative experiences, which can occur across multiple domains including (but not limited to) families, friend groups, workplaces, communities and health care settings likely contribute to poorer mental health.
Eating Disorders and Obesity
Not everyone who has obesity has an eating disorder and vice versa. However, there is significant co-occurrence in these issues. Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa are the two most commonly studied eating disorders in people with obesity and data indicate that these eating disorders and obesity likely exacerbate one another. Importantly, people who have both obesity and an eating disorder are likely to experience significant medical and psychological effects.
Mental Health and Weight
There are many ways that mental health issues can affect your weight. Depending on a person’s genetics, environment, history, psychology and other individual factors, mental health issues can result in weight loss or weight gain. More specifically, changes in eating behavior, appetite and/or weight are diagnostic criteria of depression and some eating disorders. And, having negative self-talk/self-evaluation commonly reported in people experiencing depression and anxiety can contribute to the use of unhealthy coping behaviors which can, in turn, contribute to weight change.
Mental Health and Obesity Treatment
Mental health issues may make a person less likely to seek obesity treatment. For example, the lethargy common in depression or the behavioral avoidance common in anxiety disorders can interfere with a person’s likelihood of asking for help. In addition to diagnosable mental health conditions, other mental health-related factors affect treatment, too. Past experiences of weight stigma and bias can cause a person to internalize self-blame for having obesity and therefore make him/her/them feel hesitant to ask for help. And, people who have relied on using food as a means of coping with stress, anxiety, or other uncomfortable emotional or psychological experiences may have difficulty changing their eating patterns without help.
Managing Mental Health
Mental health issues are sometimes ignored because they are mostly invisible. Unlike a broken arm in a cast or the obvious suffering that accompanies the flu, mental health issues have often been treated as “all in your head.” However, it is just as important to properly care for your mental health as it is to attend to your physical health. There are many ways to help you manage your mental health. Seeking support, either from friends or family, individual or group therapy or by working with a doctor for medication treatment are all great options. Sometimes in more serious cases, hospital stays are needed to provide the highest levels of support and treatment. However, there are also small things you can do in your everyday life to help care for your own mental health. Regular physical activity is one of the best tools we have to improve your mental health. This exercise doesn’t have to be intense or very strenuous to help reduce anxiety, depression and stress. Eating a variety of healthy foods can help as well. Practicing deep breathing, getting consistent and high-quality sleep most nights, and practicing positive self-talk are all tools you can add to your toolbox of mental health care.