How Physical Treatments Affect Mental Health
Chemical interactions in the brain are the basis of all mental health. When the correct chemicals are present in the correct amounts, your mood remains stable and you have a positive outlook on life. When the chemicals become imbalanced, you may experience mood swings or get stuck feeling severely depressed, manic, anxious or paranoid, to name a few.
Four chemicals in particular can have a powerful effect on mental health if they are not present in the right amounts: adrenaline (which contributes to feelings of anxiety), cortisol (which is known as the stress hormone) and dopamine and serotonin (which are produced in inadequate amounts in depressed individuals).
Medications work by attempting to correct the chemical imbalance in your brain. Finding a medicine that works for you might take some trial and error, as each one is designed to promote or inhibit certain chemicals. That’s why it’s important to work closely with your doctor when being prescribed medication for mental health.
Fortunately, it’s also possible to stimulate the production of the “good” chemicals and decrease the production of the “bad” chemicals through physical treatments. No prescription required! Exercise, yoga, acupuncture and massage can all be fantastic supplements in your quest for a healthy mind. Let’s take a closer look at what each method has to offer:
A full-body massage can be an excellent way to improve your overall mental health. It’s not uncommon for stressed individuals to spend a day at the spa, relaxing and pampering themselves with gentle physical treatments like facials, saunas and, of course, massage.
But can massage help reduce feelings of depression or anxiety as well? Absolutely! Massage stimulates the entire nervous system and directly affects the brain’s production of certain chemicals. It inhibits production of cortisol and increases production of dopamine, for example.
The effect massage has on mental health can be felt immediately. If you are experiencing chronic depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns, schedule a regular massage appointment to give yourself an extra boost of brain power.
Yoga is known for its ability to improve flexibility and joint mobility, but it also has a tremendous effect on the mind. Because yoga increases body awareness, it can help you achieve a state of relaxation that you would otherwise find difficult to achieve.
Practicing yoga can also lower inflammation throughout your body, including throughout your nervous system. Inflammation in the brain is thought to be a major contributing factor to mental health disorders, along with chemical imbalances. Yoga has also been found to stimulate production of gamma-aminobutyric acid, which protects and regulates the nervous system.
Acupuncture also stimulates the nervous system, but this traditional Chinese medicine considers many interconnected channels along the body. The aim is to not only stimulate the nervous system, but other areas of the body, such as the kidneys or the cardiovascular system.
Various acupuncture points around the body are stimulated with tiny needles. (If you’re nervous about needles, you could start with acupressure, in which these points are stimulated by simple pressure.)
For anxiety, acupuncture points around the ear, kidney, spleen and heart are stimulated, whereas acupuncture treatment for depression focuses on the liver, spleen and heart.
Like yoga, acupuncture increases body awareness and can help you achieve a heavy state of relaxation, which in turn can alter the cortisol levels in your brain.
Exercise has long been associated with an improved mood. Going for a walk or a run can have an effect on your mood in mere minutes. A sustained exercise regimen can help keep chronic depression at bay, and some evidence even suggests that regular exercise is as effective as antidepressant medication.
From a chemical standpoint, exercise increases the production of serotonin and dopamine. Scientists have also theorized that exercise helps improve sleep, which in turn has a profoundly positive effect on mental health.
But perhaps you’ve never found exercise enjoyable. So how do you start? First, buddy up with someone. It’s more fun to have an adventure with a friend, and the companionship will also boost your mood. Second, try something like Geocaching or Pokémon GO to start walking. Go to a recreational pool and dive for rings or play pool volleyball. In short, you don’t have to feel like you are training for the Olympics to get exercise. Just get your heart pumping and push yourself out of your comfort zone a little at a time.
Don’t Wait Until You Need It
If you are currently severely depressed, exercise in particular will sound impossible. But even the little things, like scheduling a massage appointment, could seem overwhelming. That’s why it is so important to be proactive and to start a routine that will stave off the more severe symptoms of depression or anxiety.
You should also understand which life events tend to stress you out or cause a decline in your mental health, and then schedule massages or acupuncture appointments around those times. For example, large holidays with your family or quarterly reviews at your job could both cause an uptick in feelings of excess stress, anxiety or depression.
In other words, it’s best to start when you are feeling good, not when you are near rock bottom. If you are indeed near rock bottom and are desperate to pull yourself out, it’s imperative that you have the support of a loved one who can schedule appointments for you and accompany you, or cajole you into going for a very easy walk or doing a few yoga poses. You do not need to do it alone, and nor should you be expected to.
Reach out to someone you trust. And if you’re still not sure who to reach out to, reach out to us.