The body speaks when the mind freaks

When something is ailing your mind, it expresses through problems in your body

woman in painCommonly, when we mean to say ‘I am getting some bodily signals of being unwell’, we end up saying “I am not ‘feeling’ well.” This probably points out just how inseparable our body and mind are.

Brain behind it all

Erich Harth [in Windows of the Mind, 1982] put it like this: “The brain presents two seemingly irreconcilable aspects: It is a material body, exhibiting all the physical properties of matter, and it possesses a set of faculties and attributes, collectively called mind, that are not found in any other physical system.”

Our brain sends signals when there is a problem in either area. Most mental illnesses, be it depression, anxiety, psychosis, have been researched and found to have a brain basis, that is, certain neurochemical regulators, which become imbalanced in certain conditions. Early identification of these can stop the disease from aggravating or may be, even from precipitating.

Don’t miss these messages

Many a times, we pick up the signals our brain sends, while at other times, either due to ignorance or negligence, we miss them.

The following are some of common mental illnesses and their signs you should be aware of:


Amongst the different mental disorders, the most common is depression, which is said to be the ‘common cold’ in mental disorders. Depression is caused due to an imbalance of a neurotransmitter called serotonin.

This leads to dampening of certain brain circuits that are responsible for positive thinking, problem-solving and happiness. This leads to negative thinking, sadness, pessimistic and/or suicidal thoughts and dysfunctional thinking, which are the common symptoms of depression.

Signs: People in depression have a prominent ‘negativity bias’, which makes them look at all negativities in life and the world. They develop negative ideas about the self, world and future, consequently leading them to wish they were dead. There may be physical symptoms of depression too. These physical symptoms may include, but are not limited to, fatigue, loss of appetite or hyperphagia, decreased sexual interest, and sleep disturbances.

Depression can range from very mild to severe. But if you have been experiencing sadness, crying spells, negative automatic thinking, suicidal ideas, sudden loss/increase in appetite, for more than two weeks at a stretch, you must seek professional help. You may experience mild depression in the form of chronic fatigue, body aches and pains, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, sleep and sexual interest. Depression can be effectively treated with medicines and psychotherapy.

Anxiety disorders

The spectrum of anxiety disorders is quite broad with the underlying symptom of feeling anxious, out-of-control, jittery, confused, indecisive and uncertain. Anxiety has very obvious physical manifestations, as we all experience it at least once daily. Anxiety is a state of autonomic arousal, that is, the autonomic nervous system springs into action.

Signs: Nervousness, excessive sweating, drying of throat, palpitation, choking, feeling dizzy, nausea, and gastrointestinal difficulties are some common symptoms. Physical symptoms include [but are not limited to] multiple aches and pains, gastro-intestinal difficulties, decreased immunity, cough and cold.

Anxiety may also manifests as other somatic signs, such as skin problems, hair fall, menstrual difficulties, or problems in sexual functioning. Certain behaviours such as twitching of muscles, mannerisms, fidgeting and shaking of limbs are also indicative of anxiety. Anxiety disorders are treatable with adequate medication and psychotherapy.

Mood disorders

Mood disorders include depression and mania. While depression has already been discussed, mania involves a state of hyper-excitability, irritability, over-energetic, elated mood, which can last for weeks to months. Mania may be followed by or occur after an episode of depression. So one may experience these opposite phases, in which the physical and psychological symptoms are contrasting and severe enough to warrant medical attention.

Signs: People suffering from mania undergo periods of feeling over-energetic; so they may do much more work than usual, be more religious, spend more, sleep less, eat more, involve in extra grooming, and display disinterest in sexual behaviour. Physical symptoms include sweating, pacing, weight lost and exhaustion. Mania is treatable with mood stabilisers and psychotherapy.

Moral of the story

All mental illnesses are a combination of biological and psychological factors in the individual’s constitution. There is no one-to-one correlation to support any one group of factors; like any other disease, mental disorders also manifest in physical and psychological signs and symptoms.

In fact, almost all chronic physical diseases, from cancer to AIDS have psychological repercussions. There is no reason to rely only on physical symptoms of any illness as the indicator of your wellbeing. Psychological intervention is as important in disorders of the body as in those of the mind.

Sukanya Ray
Sukanya Ray is a consultant at Human Dynamic Asia Pacific, Bangalore, providing people management services. She is a clinical psychologist trained from the National Institute of Mental Health And Neuro Sciences [NIMHANS], Bangalore.


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