It’s not all in your mind: Mental health and physical pain

The physical symptoms and effects of mental illness is something that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough. Even though mental conditions can vary greatly in symptoms and severity, the conclusion I reached when I did a little research is that anything that is negatively impacting your psychological health can most certainly also take a toll on your physical health. Here are a few specific examples.

Depression and the heart

The American Heart Association states that 33% of heart attack patients also report suffering from depression. As pointed out in the following article, depression can also take a toll on such things as hormone and glucose levels. Here is the reference article if you want to check it out for yourself: How Does Depression Affect the Heart?

A few years ago, I myself ended up in the emergency room as I was having severe chest pains. I seriously thought I was having a heart attackThe doctors did a multitude of tests but my heart turned out to be just fine. They couldn’t find anything physically wrong with me. Stress and a recent bout of depression was most likely the culprit.

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Anxiety and the brain

On yet another occassion I ended up going to the emergency room as I was experiencing the absolute worst headache of my life. The pain ended up spreading throughout the rest of my body until I could barely move. I’d been feeling anxious and stressed out for quite a while so it’s no wonder. No doubt this took a toll on my brain.

So, in a strange way I was rather happy to read the following article by Marwa Azab Ph.D. published by Psychology Today, which backs up what I’d already suspected. Anxiety most definitly has a detrimental effect on the brain: “The Pain of Worry: The Anxious Brain.”

Stress and the muscular system

Feeling physical pain in the muscles will come as no surprise to anyone who has experienced bouts of severe stress, in other words most everyone. Our shoulders often take the brunt of it, however, stress may also be felt in the arms, legs, abdomine, etc. A person is also more likely to experience muscle-related injuries when the muscles are taut and not in proper working order.

Read this brief write up by the The American Psychological Association (APA) on this subject: “Stress Effects on the Body: Musculoskeletal System” .

BPD and the nervous system

People like me who are dealing with the horrendous effects of borderline personality disorder are well aware of how senstive their bodies can be when they are in the midst of their worst symptoms. It should make BPD sufferers feel a little better to know that it truly isn’t all psychologically related. Abnormalities between how the brain communicates with the body’s system of nerves are thought to be a huge factor in BPD. Read through this interesting article on VeryWellMind for more information:  BPD and the Sympathetic Nervous System.

So, now you have a scientific explanation to provide to people when thet tell you to quite being so sensitive. Physicially speaking, you are more senstive than the average person.


The respiratory system

No doubt that mental illness can effect the body’s respiratory system as well. Not only the actual act of breathing but I believe much of the acute sinus problems I had when I was younger were at least partially due to stress, anxiety and depression.

Here is one final interesting post from on stress, which is typically present in most mental health disorders, and it’s effects on the entire body.


The case for mental health reform: Part one, failure is not a option

That’s unfair! Coping with life’s unintended obstacles

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17 thoughts on “It’s not all in your mind: Mental health and physical pain

  1. I suffer from anxiety, and I suffer daily with physical symptoms. Mostly random aches and pains in the chest or arm or leg. Which leads me to think something very serious is wrong. It’s a vicious cycle…… great post 🙂

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  2. This was such a great article . Thank you for doing all the research and providing the information. I suffer from Bipolar disorder and have lately have been suffering from anxiety attacks In a way I had not experienced before. It takes over my muscular areas of my body and I don’t have control of it no matter what I do. I just have to wait it out. I told my mom when I try to explain what is happening people say oh I have that when I’m stressed. She said yea others experience what you do but yours are more extreme and you can’t just use relaxation techniques to make them lessen to the same extent the average person can. I always feel ashamed that I cannot control how anxiety, mania or depression affects my body and mind

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    1. Yes, and so sorry to hear about your bipolar and anxiety symptoms. I’m glad that research is coming out to back up what we may feel physically.
      To people who say that they experience the same symptoms I always say that it always depends on the severity. A mental health disorder tends to destroy and ruin your life, which goes far beyond merely experiencing a few similar symptoms. Thanks for visiting. I do hope you find some good coping mechanisms. Try a lot of different things and see if you can find something that works for you. 🙂


  3. Exactly, exactly. Isn’t one of anxiety’s classic symptoms the feeling of “pins and needles” in the stomach, and other manifestations of gastric distress? Even among those fortunate to be lightly burdened with mental issues, the physical signs of mental stress are undeniable.

    Even on a much tamer level, those who don’t like public speaking experience sweaty palms and “butterflies in the stomach.”

    The brain is a magnificent and supremely powerful organ. It’s not to be trifled with.

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    1. For sure, you are so correct, which makes me wonder why some people think you can easily just shut such things off in your mind and everything is ok. Its just not that easy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True. Our minds are capable of astounding feats, yet that potential sometimes exerts a steep emotional and physical price.

        Prefer to be unburdened? Okay. Do earthworms suffer mental issues? Maybe, but how can you tell? Ours is a higher path, and I accept the risks.

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