Stress can wreak havoc not only on your mind but also on your body. There is a reason why doctors tell you time and again to not get stressed over small issues. This precautionary recommendation holds greater importance, especially if you are ill or have a weak immune system. This is because worrying about a disease can lead to physical symptoms. Well, if you did not know this, you may want to read this post.
We often hear that psychology plays a vital role in curing the disease, and even doctors agree with this. So, if our healthy mental state could help us in getting relief, it is also likely that poor mental health can affect our physical being. The term ‘psychosomatic disorder’ is used for such conditions. Read on to know more about them and how they are related to psychology.
What Is Psychosomatic Disorder?
The term ‘psychosomatic disorder’ is used for a physical disease that is thought to be caused or made worse by mental factors. ‘Psyche’ refers to the mind and ‘somatic’ refers to the physical signs and symptoms that are observed for the disease. Usually, most diseases are psychosomatic as they have mental and physical components.
These disorders may not be present in the same way in every individual. Depending on your mentality and temperament, a physical disease, like a rash or psoriasis, may bother you enough to make you depressed and sick. However, another friend with a similar condition may not feel as depressed or sick as you. The reverse can also be true. For instance, someone with depression may not eat enough or nothing at all. Thus, mental conditions can also lead to physical illness (1, 2).
Psychosomatic disorders include diseases like eczema, stomach ulcers, hypertension, psoriasis, and even heart disease. In fact, a study concluded that depression and anxiety are directly responsible for diseases like myocardial infarction (3).
Let us now look at the physical signs and symptoms of psychosomatic disorder.
Symptoms Of Psychosomatic Disorder
Now that we know that psychosomatic disorders usually begin in the mind, let’s look at the symptoms of this condition. It has many symptoms, including:
Causes Of Psychosomatic Disorder
How mental conditions like depression, anxiety, and stress trigger physical symptoms is not entirely clear. Research is still going on for specific diseases to understand the link between the psyche and the symptoms.
Some reports conclude that increased nerve impulse activity when you are anxious, depressed, or stressed can be one of the contributing factors for the physical symptoms (1, 2). Sometimes, adrenaline and epinephrine releases can also trigger physical symptoms when you are anxious. There have been many studies, and a recent one on how stress causes illness among nurses concluded that burnout is one of the main causes of psychosomatic disorder symptoms like acidity, back pain, neck pain, forgetfulness, and anger (4).
Based on the root cause of the stress and how it is characterizing itself, psychosomatic disorders are divided into different types. These are given below.
Types Of Psychosomatic Disorders
Mostly, psychosomatic disorders and other severe forms are caused by emotional stress. They are divided into these seven types:
(i) Undifferentiated Somatoform Disorder – In this type, you experience one or more symptoms (pain, fatigue, appetite loss, and gastrointestinal symptoms) for a minimum of six months.
(ii) Somatization Disorder – Symptoms include pain, sexual symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, neurological symptoms, menstrual symptoms, and fatigue. Seen in people between 18 and 30 years of age, who experience these symptoms for years without any explanation for them.
(iii) Unspecified Somatoform Disorder – Patients falsely believe that they are pregnant because of signs like termination of menstruation, fetal movement, labor pains, nausea, etc.
(iv) Conversion Disorder – Symptoms of this include inability to make a sound, sudden illness attacks, unconsciousness, drooping of the upper eyelids, sensation loss in one or more body parts, and vision problems.
(v) Illness Anxiety Disorder (Hypochondriasis) – Patients fear that they have a dangerous illness that is going to cause major harm to their body. They often visit multiple doctors to prove this.
(vi) Pain Disorder – Symptoms include experiencing pain in one or more parts of the body over long periods, without any explanation.
Note: Conditions like CFS and fibromyalgia, though they cannot be detected with tests, aren’t simply psychosomatic.
(vii) Body Dysmorphic Disorder – People affected with this feel that their body is defective and often resort to cosmetic treatments to improve their appearance.
Emotional stress is often a major cause of these disorders (5). So, we know how the state of mind can affect our body. What we don’t know yet is how to treat this condition. As the disease is not physical, unlike the symptoms, there should be a balance of emotional and physical treatment for the afflicted people. Here are the treatment options that are recommended for psychosomatic disorders.
How To Treat Psychosomatic Disorder
1. Yoga For Psychosomatic Disorders
According to Ayurveda, yoga includes meditation and relaxation exercises that can help manage psychosomatic disorders. As these disorders are triggered by mental conditions like anxiety and stress, taking part in stress-busting activities like yoga can help the relieve these mental issues. Simple breathing exercises and asanas that will relax your mind can be practiced on a daily basis.
Yoga has a calming effect on the body and makes you more aware and accepting of yourself and your surroundings. Experiments have shown yoga to be as effective as drugs when it comes to psychosomatic disorders (6, 7).
2. Medication For Psychosomatic Disorders
Usually, specific drugs are prescribed by general physicians to alleviate some of the physical symptoms. Most doctors also recommend patients to psychologists/psychotherapists for therapy as the drugs only provide temporary relief. An anxious person is likely to suffer a relapse of the physical symptoms, and treatment of the psychological root is necessary. The different types used for treatment are tricyclic antidepressants (TCA), serotonin and noradrenalin reuptake inhibitors (SNRI), atypical antipsychotics, serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), and herbal medications (8). Different combinations of drugs are prescribed by specialists depending on the age of the patient, intensity of the disease, duration, and responsiveness to treatment.
3. Fasting Therapy For Psychosomatic Disorders
A treatment well known in Japan, fasting therapy has successfully alleviated both physical and psychological symptoms in psychosomatic disorder patients. According to this therapy, the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system are regulated by the fasting process. As a result, the body re-establishes its balance for both mental health and physical health (9).
4. Hypnosis For Psychosomatic Disorders
Migraines, asthma, and gastrointestinal issues seen with psychosomatic disorders are often treated with hypnosis. This method of treatment aims to find the solution to the physical symptoms within the patient’s subconscious. Long-term hypnotherapy can work effectively to resolve the underlying emotions and stop the psyche from affecting the body and the symptoms from developing. Anger, fear, and dependency issues have been resolved successfully with this therapy in the past (10, 11).
5. Cognitive Behavior Therapy For Psychosomatic Disorders
According to the cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), how we react to a situation depends a lot on how we perceive it. An individual’s thoughts are integrated with his/her emotions, physical sensations, behavior, and also the environment. And this directs how individuals behave in a particular situation and how their thought process influences their physical state. When this ideology is used to treat psychosomatic disorders, it helps the patients think holistically and relieves their health related anxieties. Great success was achieved when CBT was included with standard medical care in different sets of trials. Even cases of severe somatization were seen to shown improvement (12, 13).
Your state of mind is what aggravates or calms your physical condition. Hence, psychology plays an important part in curing a disease and even during the onset of disease in the first place. So, the next time you get unnecessarily stressed, remember that stress and anxiety can lead to something more dangerous than a temporary feeling of anger, depression, or frustration. Keeping stress and anxiety at bay are the key goals.
This content was originally published here.