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How Mental Health Affects Your Physical Health

May is Mental Health Month, and let’s be honest, the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is increasing stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues for almost everyone, but women are experiencing increased stress and anxiety at twice the rate of men. There’s a close connection between your psychological and physical health.

How your mental health affects your physical health

Mental health issues cause a wide range of distressing mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. Your heightened emotional state can also trigger your fight-or-flight response, which is fueled by adrenaline and cortisol. 

These hormones give you the boost you need to make good decisions and avoid danger. The bad news is that when you’re always stressed, these hormones cause low-grade inflammation throughout your body, which interferes with your immunologic function. 

As a result — you get sick. 

When your immune system isn’t functioning correctly, your risk of picking up an infection increases, and no one wants to pick up an illness, especially now. 

Why the COVID-19 pandemic is harming mental health

Around half of Americans report that the novel coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. Not only are fears about the health and wellness of our families and communities triggering anxiety, but the mundane stress of being safe at home without access to any of the facilities or activities you used to use for stress relief and self-care contributes to anxiety, stress, and depression. 

In addition to everything you’re coping with every day, the news is full of horror stories about how unsafe it is to go anywhere and how overwhelmed the healthcare system is, which might keep you from seeking the medical attention you need. 

While you want to make safe, healthy choices, you should never ignore signs of illness. Here at Maiden Lane Medical, we can provide safe medical care. In addition to carefully scheduled in-office appointments, we also offer telemedicine services — but more on that later.

When left unmanaged, mental health conditions and stress tend to intensify, leading to other problems like substance abuse and physical illness. 

Why this is a risk for women

Let’s consider just one example of how the effects of stress and mental health issues contribute to women’s health problems

Here at Maiden Lane Medical, we help women living with pelvic pain by providing expert diagnosis and state-of-the-art treatments to address the underlying cause of your pain. Many conditions can cause pelvic pain, but for the sake of brevity, consider muscle spasticity in the pelvic floor. 

If you have elevated stress levels, your immune system isn’t functioning at optimal levels, and you have an increased risk of picking up a vaginal infection. Under normal circumstances, vaginal infections are uncomfortable and annoying but easy to treat.

The problem is that a vaginal infection causes inflammation, not only in your vaginal tissue, but throughout your pelvic area, including your bladder, urethra, and even your pelvic floor muscles. Extra inflammation in your pelvic floor can cause significant problems if you’re already dealing with a muscle spasm-related pelvic pain problem. 

Your muscle tissue responds to inflammation by contracting and triggering your muscle spasm creating a cascade of pain. To further complicate the issue, even if you successfully treat your vaginal infection and the inflammation subsides, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your pelvic floor muscle spasm will release. 

Stressed woman - women's mental health

How you can protect your physical and mental health

You can still take care of yourself, physically and mentally, while we practice social distancing. Life looks a little different right now, but taking care of your health is essential.

Mental health care tips

You can find a million articles about the importance of self-care during the COVID-19 crisis. We recommend finding something that works for you and your family. For example, you might benefit from following a daily routine to create structure. Many patients tell us that waking up at the same time every day and making their bed helps them start their day off on the right foot. They also report that setting aside time for work, exercise, meditation, and meals help as well. We know this won’t work for everyone, but it’s something to consider. Other recommendations include:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Put your phone down and stop reading the news 
  • Move your body
  • Eat healthy, nutritious meals
  • Limit your alcohol consumption
  • Spend time doing something you enjoy
  • Talk to friends and family

Also, if you are struggling to cope with mental health symptoms, reach out for help. Talk to your trusted health care provider about what you’re thinking and feeling and how it’s impacting your life. 

Physical health care tips

Many of the recommendations for protecting your mental health are also good for your physical health. However, in addition to eating well and getting enough exercise and sleep, you should also maintain contact with your physicians and never ignore pain or other signs of health problems. 

We offer telehealth appointments to make sure that you get the health care you need, even when you can’t make it into the office. You talk to your doctor via a secure video conferencing program. We can see you and assess your physical health while we talk about your symptoms and health needs. If we think you need in-person care such as testing like blood work, ultrasound, or a pelvic exam, we schedule an appointment.

We offer almost all of the women’s health services you need right here in our Midtown offices. We’re also taking every precaution to help you and our team stay safe and healthy, including even more rigorous cleanliness standards and limiting the number of people in our office at any given time. 

We know life is hard and frightening right now, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your health. Whether your pelvic pain is flaring up again or your stress and anxiety are interfering with your physical health, give us a call or schedule a telemedicine appointment online today. 

Medically Reviewed By

Karrin Genovese, MD
Board Certified Family Medicine