Understanding Psychosomatic Aspects of Mental Illness & its Symptoms


A wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking and behaviour lead to mental illness. Most of them actually fail to recognize or understand the problem. Often times, we find ourselves in a low phase and look for motivation. Mental illness is a behavioural or mental pattern that causes significant distress. It affects a person in a big way. A lot of people undergo this every single day and it is very important for us to help those who are in need of help when they need mental support.

A trauma therapist Ruchita did a breakdown on the psychosomatic aspects of mental illness, especially symptoms of depression and anxiety. She believes in a lesser popular fact that that depression and anxiety can be diagnosed but can also be symptoms of other physiological & psychological illnesses. The following is the breakdown that she did.

What does psychosomatic mean?

Psychosomatic is the best way to describe the relationship between the brain and the body because it constitutes the ways in which mental distress has physical symptoms experienced by the body.

Pain is a classic example. Starting off with stress headaches or tension headaches where the pain is usually experienced in the forehead and above the nape of the neck. This is also an indicator of a lack of sleep or might be experienced after sobbing. The area might also become warm. Chest pain is commonly seen with heightened anxiety. Chest tightness is experienced during a panic attack but chest heaviness, pain and tightness can also be correlated with chronic or acute anxiety.

Lack of sleep or sleeping too much is common with depression. It then has a trickle-down effect on the degree of exhaustion that attaches itself to the amount of productivity -> diminishing self-worth + other stressors that are closely related to emotional symptoms of depression too. Muscle aches, joint pains, dizziness or lightheadedness are also common with depression. A lot of psychosomatic symptoms can also worsen in stressful, unsupportive environments because the amount of care received is not proportionate with the amount of stress experienced.

Change in appetite is also possible in cases of depression where one may start rapidly losing weight or crave specific foods. Since depression can also be a symptom of eating disorders in many cases, its relationship with food can also be due to a host of other factors at times. Digestive problems are also seen in cases of anxiety. Remember the feeling of butterflies in your stomach? That could be either excitement or anxiety, given the situation, but it also signifies a physical reaction in the region. It is the physical experience of the feeling. Pain sensors come from the brain. It is the master organ. When you fracture your leg, your brain sends the signal that denotes pain to those nerve endings. It’s only natural that pain, discomfort and other psychosomatic manifestations are a result of the brain being under stress.

The physical experience of anxiety is dominated by the release of stress hormones by the adrenal gland. So for example, hyperventilation experienced during an episode of extreme anxiety can lead to respiratory difficulties. Now breathing too fast or not breathing enough oxygen can naturally lead to lightheadedness or even fainting. The heart beats faster too which means the circulation in the body has changed. Fight, flight or freeze because anxiety happens when the brain feels that danger is lurking.

Anxiety can also affect the function of the immune system because of the frequent release of cortisol, a stress hormone. This makes people with chronic anxiety more vulnerable to other illnesses. But these depictions are not the only ways in which anxiety and depression have psychosomatic manifestations. Since every body is different, brain chemistry is different and triggers are different, symptoms can also look different.

The point is to ALWAYS BELIEVE that mental illness + mental health stressors are very REAL. Stop telling people that it’s all in their head to dismiss their experiences. Even if it is in their head or in their stomach, it is still very very real and adequate care must be provided.

Ruchita can be contacted via [email protected]


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