I have been considering this question since I was eight years old. For some reason it was a subject that my father felt was important. It was his contention that mental health was more important. I have historically felt that physical health was the foundation of a productive life. Since I have learned about the chemical effects of the mind on the body I feel that mental health is more important and, of course, they are linked.
Consider the following:
Thoughts are the mental link to the environment that allows you to assess your situation second by second in order to make choices that allow you to first survive and then thrive. If our thoughts are pleasant our bodies will secrete chemicals such as oxytocin, growth hormone and dopamine that create a sense of relaxation and well-being.
Conversely, if you feel stressed then your thoughts will create a chemical environment consisting of adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones that create a sense of insecurity and dread. You will be motivated to control you or the situation to alleviate these feelings of anxiety. If you cannot escape or solve it, you will feel trapped and angry. If you are in a constant hyper-vigilant state, then your body will be continually on overdrive. It is like driving your car 70 mph down the freeway in second or third gear. It will break down much sooner than if you were in 5th gear and cruising. Anxiety, Anger and Adrenaline
I am aware that life is not easy. Very few people can live their lives on “cruise.” Additionally, avoiding stress also becomes its own stress. You cannot run from your thoughts, which can torment you regardless of your environment. In fact, when I was in the most severe period of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) my mental distress was worse when I was less busy. OCD, BTW, is manifested by intrusive thoughts and extreme anxiety. Some day I will write about my battle with it in more detail but the only metaphor I can use to describe the experience is “having a hot branding iron on my brain”. The misery being in that hell of unrelenting anxiety is indescribable. OCD is no fun and not funny – extreme mental pain
So one of the antidotes to anxiety is control. When you lose control your body will kick in more adrenaline to physically help you solve the problem. For example, if you were physically fighting someone for food to feed your family the adrenaline boost would up your odds of winning. Unfortunately, just thoughts of danger can create the same chemical response even when there is no physical threat. Now you are in trouble because you have no way of physically solving the problem and there is not an endpoint.
Neurophysiologic Disorder (NPD)
There are many terms to describe the physical consequences of sustained levels of stress chemicals in your body. Some of them include Mind Body Syndrome (MBS), Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), Central Sensitization Syndrome (CSS), and Stress Illness Disorder. The term I have chosen is “Neurophysiologic Disorder” (NPD). Your thoughts are the neurologic input to your nervous system that creates a physiological response. We are programmed to gravitate towards the reward chemicals and avoid the stress ones. Within a pretty wide range we are able to conduct our lives in a functional and enjoyable manner – except when we can’t. There are solutions to the problem, which are the focus of my book. However, consider the effects of not addressing it. These next few paragraphs were part of a proposal to address the effects of high ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) scores beginning in elementary school. Aced Out
Effects of Untreated NPD and Anxiety
There are several ways that untreated Neurophysiologic Disorder (NPD) manifests itself. Remember that the main focus of the school project is to deal with the lifelong impact of adverse childhood events. The worse the ACE load, the higher will be the anxiety a child brings into the classroom. The devastating impact on mental and physical health of a high ACE score is well documented. This does not even take into account the power struggle that occurs amongst these students to deal with unrelenting anxiety. Bullying, at the moment, is not even counted in the ACE score.
First, NPD can directly cause over 33 different physical symptoms. Medicine is focused on treating symptoms instead of the root cause of a fired up nervous system. Many of these conditions will begin in childhood, such as migraine headaches, insomnia, anxiety, eating disorders, stomach pain, etc. My Battle with NPD
Second, anxiety is the result of sensory input also that drives anger. One common cause of anger is loss of control. When you lose your ability to control your anxiety the anger will become intense. Anger is always destructive, including self-destructive. Although it may not become manifested during school years, it eventually results in complete disregard for personal health. This is an addition to the symptoms directly caused by the MBS. My observation is that complete neglect of your health is akin to a “slow suicide.”
Third, anger is abusive. Chronic pain creates and indescribable depth of frustration. When you are angry, it is all about you. It is a survival response and you lose awareness of the needs around you. Lack of awareness is the essence of abuse. Families of patients in chronic pain become the targets of this deep anger, and hence the cycle of adverse childhood events continues. There is a high chance that these children will act out their frustrations at school. Also, their parents have modeled anger as the normal way of dealing with adversity. Pain = anger = abuse
Unrelenting anxiety/anger cause profound physical effects on your body. Another week I will present the data regarding mental health and life span. It is not a pretty picture.
Your Unconscious Brain
I am aware that no one intellectually wants to be sick or unhealthy. The solution lies in addressing pre-programmed behavioral patterns that are part of the unconscious brain. The unconscious brain is about one million times stronger than the conscious brain. Your conscious brain energies manifesting as “good intentions” or “will power” have no chance of solving the problem. You must utilize strategies that stimulate your brain to rewire. You cannot “fix” yourself because your attention is still on you. Solving the Unsolvable
The DOC project is a framework intended for you to organize your thinking in a manner to connect with your own body’s capacity to heal. Your unconscious brain will resist this process to the max. Just sit down with Stage 1 on this website and start the therapeutic writing as described in Step 2. Your brain will begin to change and you will be able to move forward.
So my feeling is the mental health is the highest priority. Your body’s chemistry is optimized, you are able to enjoy your life with your family and friends, and your capacity and motivation to care for your health will be higher.