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This is how stress affects every organ in our bodies

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Stress-related stomach pain: When to see a doctor - UChicago Medicine

Have you ever felt stressed and then noticed butterflies in your stomach? Or felt anxious and noticed your heart pounding harder in your chest? Well, you are not alone, as every single one of the more than 8 billion people on the planet likely has too.

What we think and how we feel are the same; our mental and physical well-being are not separate entities that we control individually. Thinking of our minds and bodies “in isolation would be a mistake,” Dr Ruma Bhargava, Global Health Executive at the World Economic Forum explains ahead of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Understanding this link – fundamental to your well-being and that of everyone you know – is more important than ever. One in every two people will develop a mental health disorder in their lifetime, a large-scale Harvard study shows.

“Stress and anxiety affect each of organ in our body. If we feel stressed, depressed or have anxiety issues, then our bodies react. We feel our temperature increase and we are not able to control our movements, for example,” Dr Bhargava says.

“Similarly, if we have physical health conditions, like diabetes, hypertension or obesity, then we have severe mental health problems.”

Understanding the bigger picture

This deep connection between our minds and bodies is not a recent discovery. The phrase “a sound mind in a sound body” was coined by a Greek philosopher more than 2,500 years ago and many historical medical theories are based around this sense of unity.

Today, the spotlight is back on how to understand and benefit from this ancient link – especially as mental health issues are on the rise.

The far-reaching negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential geopolitical recession add to the stresses of everyday life. The same applies to climate change, with higher temperatures linked to increases in aggression and anxiety, as well as neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“If we consider our immune system as an army protecting us from invaders, like bacteria and viruses, this gets weakened with mental health issues. It then makes us susceptible to most common colds and infections,” Dr Bhargava shares.

The impact affects all age groups. A study with 30-year-old men showed that heavy stress shortens their life expectancy by 2.8 years and 2.3 years for women of the same age. Such facts can motivate us to think more about how our minds and bodies can work harmoniously together to strengthen our own “army”, and live happier and healthier lives.

The more we understand this connection, the faster we can act on it. This is where collaborative efforts, such as the Forum’s Global Future Council, can help, such as developing novel public-private initiatives to shift mental health treatment.

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