Mens Sana In Corpore Sano
Recent findings from the 2020 Modern Families Index have revealed that many of today’s working parents are finding it impossible to ‘switch off’ from their work due to the increasing impact that modern communications are having on us all. Around 44% of the 3,090 working parents who participated in the Modern Families Index study admitted to checking emails at home in the evening and a similar figure agreed that the boundaries between work time and home have become blurred. Around 60% of the parents who were questioned said that they found taking work home with them was the only way to deal with an ever-increasing workload.
Challenges around looking after our physical health and taking care not to become over tired, anxious or stressed, or to allow our job to put us under too heavy a strain are something that can affect all working people, parents or otherwise. The adage, mens sana in corpore sano, or ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body reflects the very strong link that exists between our state of mind and our physical health and wellbeing.
The connection makes sense, especially when you consider that someone struggling with stress, anxiety or depression may not feel able, or quite so inclined to look after themselves physically, for example by eating properly, practising good hygiene and remaining fit and active. Poor mental health can also lead people to stop interacting with friends and family, thus reducing the possibility of their physical and emotional symptoms being spotted and addressed at an earlier stage.
MHFA England (Mental Health First Aid), the mental health training and campaigning organisation, states that one in six working age adults have symptoms associated with mental health. By furthering our understanding of the issues around mental health, we can go on to understand how and why this can manifest itself so significantly in physical symptoms.
Physical symptoms of poor mental health
Poor mental health causes many physical symptoms that can prevent us from functioning normally or being able to analyse our reactions and how appropriate they are to the situation at hand. It is not always easy to identify these signs in yourself, which is why it is crucial for us all to watch out for each other in and out of working hours, and to raise the alarm if something seems wrong, or another person is not behaving as they might reasonably be expected to do.
While we all encounter periods when our stress levels might rise higher than normal, someone experiencing excessive amounts of stress for longer periods of time can rapidly find themselves moving toward a state of emotional crisis, a breakdown or other potentially dangerous physical manifestations. Physical signs and symptoms to watch out for include headaches and dizziness, pain and tension in the muscles, chest pain or fluctuating heartbeat, stomach upset or sexual problems. There may be changes in behaviour too, from unusual irritability, changes to sleeping patterns, either sleeping too much or too little, avoiding certain situations or drinking or smoking more.
Other physical signs that someone may be struggling with their mental health include sudden mood swings, extreme negative emotional displays of, e.g. guilt, anxiety or anger, tiredness, loss of concentration or memory, changes in eating or drinking habits and issues around sex drive. People can also experience headaches, stomach pains, back pain and other unexplained aches and discomfort.
Coping with short- to medium-term stress
Early intervention is key to helping to support patients displaying physical signs of poor mental health. Less severe cases can often be improved by providing a trusted outlet for the person to talk about their feelings and to access exercises and support to help them deal with their own situation. Lifestyle advice, for example around sleeping, eating and generally taking care of the body can often provide significant help in less severe instances of poor mental health.
For many people, early mornings can be the worst time for feeling like they are unable to cope, and for experiencing physical symptoms, such as fatigue or pain, as the day seems to stretch out ahead of them. Learning to recognise when in the day you are more likely to feel vulnerable can help you to plan ahead to work out ways to mitigate against any negative emotions.
Eating a good breakfast, even if
you don’t feel hungry will help fuel your body and get you through the initial,
difficult start to the day. Leaving yourself plenty of time to get to work, or
wherever you need to go can also help you to stay calm and more in control.
Finding someone you trust to talk things through, either at work, in your
private life or with a professional counsellor or mental health expert can also
help you to cope better with medium- or short-term stress.
Handling long-term illnesses and conditions
Research by Oxford University psychiatrists has revealed that illnesses and conditions linked to serious, long-term problems around mental health can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 10 to 20 years. These figures are equivalent, or even worse than those related to heavy smoking. Life expectancy reduction for people with bipolar disorder, for example, can be anything between 9 and 20 years, while it is between 9 and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse and around 7 to 11 for recurrent depression.
Handling a long-term mental
health concern is not easy or straightforward. It requires a strong, ongoing commitment
to tackling the problem and engaging with multiple avenues of support. In the
workplace, much can be done to help support workers affected by a longer-term
problem. People can be actively encouraged to seek help, and to give it to
Managers can ensure that their teams are educated about mental health and
how it affects those directly and indirectly affected, as well as the wider
community around them. Introducing practical measures, such as counsellors,
employee assistance programmes, mental health first aiders and even somewhere
calm to sit if you need to take some time out for a while can make all the
difference to helping someone with a longer-term mental health condition to
remain in their job for longer. Think about what measures can be put in place at
your workplace to help affected employees handle the physical aspects of their
mental health struggles, such as allowing flexible hours, working from home,
extending deadlines and reducing workloads wherever possible.
 Source: www.ox.ac.uk/news/2014-05-23-many-mental-illnesses-reduce-life-expectancy-more-heavy-smoking#
 Source: https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-relationship-between-mental-and-physical-health
 Source: www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress
 Source: MHFA England Impact Report, 2019: https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/research-and-evaluation/social-impact-report-2019
 Source: BBC news website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51085719?fbclid=IwAR3ygaYD_AEzTKwD5OS92PrQhFVMp2ZBykloKejKGLjCTzExAQYr6AMFc9s
 Source: Modern Families Index 2020 Summary Report: https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/wp-ontent/uploads/2020/01/Modern_Families_Index_2020_Summary-Report_FINAL.pdf