One of the challenges that we face as psychotherapists is the framing of the conditions we treat as strictly mental health disorders. If a person struggles with depression, for example, there is this societal response that is basically framed as “you should try to feel better,” as if the struggle is partially about decision making or a person’s thought processes.
What we often emphasize, however, is that the mind and body are distinctly connected, and that the person’s experience is not based solely on what they’re thinking about in the moment. So much so, in fact, that a person can experience the physical symptoms of a disorder without even realizing they have the disorder.
About Anxiety that is Entirely Physical
Our brains are so much more than just thoughts. Behind the scenes, are brains are creating neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) that send actions and behaviors all over the body. They’re also processing information that we do not think about on a cognitive level – which means that even when you’re watching TV, or resting, your brain is trying to process emotions, events, experiences, traumas, and so much more while your thoughts are on your TV show or a fun conversation you’re having with a friend.
That is why some people experience mental health conditions that are strictly, if not almost entirely, physical. This is especially common with anxiety. This idea of physical only anxiety is not new, but many people are unaware that anxiety can be this physical – that a person can have feelings of anxiousness without realizing that they have anxiety, and without the worries and fears that we typically associate with the condition.
The only reason this is possible is because our brains are sending messages that our minds aren’t picking up. Our minds are processing things in the background while we’re thinking about other parts of our day. It is because of this that mental health should not be seen solely as an issue related to “thinking” but as a physical disorder as well.
Treating Mental Health When the Symptoms are Physical
The idea of a physical only mental health issue isn’t limited to anxiety. Depression can also have many physical symptoms without as many mental ones, as can other mental health challenges, like ADHD. That is why it is important for people to talk about mental health conditions as if they may be more than just mental – because sometimes, a person may not realize they’re struggling with the condition if their symptoms are typically only physical in nature.
Dr. Malik of AvemaPsych Medical, a psychiatrist in Houston, writes “it can be more difficult to diagnose patients that have mostly physical symptoms unless the patient is aware of and can communicate that those symptoms exist. Sometimes, there are mental symptoms that the person ignores. Other times, we need to talk further about what the symptoms may mean in order to make a diagnosis. If more people were aware that mental health can manifest physically, it would mean more people would get the help they need.
Therapy for Anxiety, Depression, and More
I believe that everyone deserves to receive support for their mental health and wellness, regardless of whether they have a diagnosable condition. I also believe that it is important for people to be aware when their quality of life is being affected by their mental health, even if the specific symptoms do not “sound like” anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.
I am licensed to provide psychotherapy in CA, TX, and FL, and I am local to the Los Angeles area if you’d like someone near you. Please contact me today to learn more about my therapy services, or to get some of the mental health support that you need.