Mental illness affects the entire body, and in efforts to manage it we must carefully consider what our bodies are telling us.
A post I wrote about how changes in a routine can precipitate an episode of anxiety, depression or mania reviews the Social Zeitgeber Hypothesis. This hypothesis maps the progression of changes in a person that lead up to a mood change.
It’s telling that mood changes are preceded by changes in somatic symptoms.
Simply put, that means you feel it in your body first. Often there are noticeable physical changes that occur before an episode rages out of control. If you notice these changes, you can act to prevent the episode.
In my own experience changes in sleep patterns combine with certain predictable physical discomforts like shoulder pain and gut distress, poor posture and a feeling of having had too much caffeine. When these things occur I can be sure that I’ll soon be in a mixed-state and stability will begin to come apart.
If I first notice the physical changes I can intervene with a plan of therapies I have worked out with my doctor in advance that will make a mood episode much less likely. The signals in my body tell me when I need to act.
Monitoring the body during meditation and movement practice can keep you tuned-in enough to pick up on subtle somatic changes that signal that you must act to prevent a difficult episode.
There’s often a clear course into an episode, and tell-tale symptoms usually precede challenging moods. But you have to notice these changes first. Carefully paying attention to your physical health and feelings will tip you off to these changes and often give you the time to intervene and protect your mental health.
Mental illness is as much a disease of the body as it is a disease of the mind. And if you notice dis-ease in your body first you can minimize the psychological impact that’s sure to follow.
This post is an excerpt from the upcoming book: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis. If you’d like to know when the book is available, please join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness.