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  • Writer's pictureBlair Watkins

Misdiagnosed! When It's Not Just A Mental Health Condition

Updated: Jun 4

Ever felt a sudden wave of anxiety or a day when your mood just feels off for no apparent reason? You're not alone. It's important to realize sometimes these feelings aren’t purely emotional or psychological; they might be signs your body is experiencing a serious underlying health issue. Today, we’re going to explore how seemingly unrelated physical health issues can profoundly impact your mental well-being.

An African American woman wearing a black floral blouse with her hand on her forehead and head down experiencing stress.  Another woman is standing to her left comforting her.

The Unseen Connection: How Your Body Influences Your Mind

The bond between our physical and mental health is profound and intricate. For instance, did you know that a simple imbalance in your diet can lead to mood swings? Or that hormonal fluctuations can feel a lot like anxiety? This unseen connection means we can't address one without the other.


Imagine waking up with a headache, and it just doesn't go away, no matter what you try. Pain is more than just discomfort; it can be a relentless tormentor. Conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraines not only cause physical pain but can lead to severe emotional distress. This ongoing battle can disrupt sleep, lead to fatigue, and leave you feeling helpless and hopeless, often spiraling into depression or anxiety. Trust me, there were days I felt every twinge and it felt like my body was in a mood of its own. It wasn’t just the pain; it was how the pain made me feel emotionally drained and isolated.

An infographic discussing the cycle of pain and mental health.

Blood Sugar and It's Effect on Mental Stability

Take something like Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes, for instance. It's not just about being careful with the amount of sugar you consume on a daily basis; it’s a full-time job that involves managing blood glucose levels that, if left unchecked, can lead to serious complications like arm and leg amputations.

The stress of managing a chronic condition, like diabetes, can really mess with your mental health, causing everything from mood swings to sleepless nights. Unregulated blood glucose levels can impair the function of your blood vessels and prevent blood from reaching all of your body parts, including the lower extremities. Not only do high blood sugar levels damage your blood vessels, it can lead to stroke and heart attack from the damage it causes to your veins and arteries.

The damage is caused by an increased build up of fatty material inside your blood vessels, narrowing them. The narrowing means more pressure builds up over time, causing high blood pressure. An increase in your blood pressure can destabilize your mood and cause a significant increase in anxiety and irritability. The problem is that most people are completely unaware that the physical and mental symptoms they're experiencing are directly caused by the damage from high blood sugar. Prolonged high blood sugar eventually cause problems with the kidneys, eyes, gums, feet and nerves.

The acute and chronic stress and anxiety brought on by endocrine disorders like diabetes can often result in the body producing excess Cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands on top of your kidneys. Research has shown that higher levels of Cortisol can coincidentally cause more anxiety, insomnia, irritability, mood swings, and fatigue. Not to mention irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea as the icing on the cake.

Disruptive Autoimmune Disorders

A person may present with anxiety, depression, fatigue, and mood changes thinking their concern is strictly a mental health issue. However, too often mental health conditions can mask a medical problem such as an autoimmune disorder.

A rheumatology study from 2023 revealed greater than 50% of people who struggle with autoimmune disease suffer from mental illness such as anxiety and depression.

Another example includes thyroid disorders. Untreated or under treated thyroid disorders can manifest as anxiety or depressive symptoms due to hormonal imbalances which impact how the brain functions.

These conditions can lead to inflammation, fatigue, and malaise, which significantly impact your mood and mental stability. A close friend struggled for years with what was thought to be depression, only to learn that her thyroid was not functioning correctly. Getting the right treatment changed her life, both physically and mentally.

The Rising Cortisol Problem

Cortisol, the stress hormone, can wreak havoc when levels in the body are consistently high, leading to anxiety, insomnia, and even chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. It’s a classic example of how a physical condition can mimic or trigger mental health symptoms. Learning to manage stress through techniques like mindfulness, exercise, and proper sleep can help regulate cortisol levels and improve overall well-being.

Infographic displaying how high cortisol levels can affect mood, memory, and overall health

Gastrointestinal Health and Anxiety

There’s a reason they call it a "gut feeling." The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, and elation—all can trigger symptoms in the gut. Conditions like IBS and IBD can also influence your mental health, causing anything from depression to anxiety. The connection between the gut and brain is so strong that sometimes treating the gut can alleviate some mental health symptoms, highlighting the importance of a holistic approach to health.

A red headed woman hunched over in pain while holding her stomach with both hands

Neurological Conditions and Their Emotional Impact

Neurological conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease are primarily physical ailments that also have significant psychological repercussions. Cognitive challenges, including memory loss and reduced attention span, can create considerable anxiety and impact the overall quality of life. Understanding and treating these symptoms require a nuanced approach that addresses both the neurological and psychological aspects.

Heart Health and Emotional Well-being

Did you know that cardiovascular health can also influence your mental state? Conditions like hypertension and heart disease can lead to mental health struggles such as depression and anxiety. Managing these conditions isn’t just about taking medication; it’s about adopting a lifestyle that supports both heart and mental health.

An african american man smiling and holding both hands in front of his chest to form a heart shape

The Role of Medication in Mental Health

Medications for physical conditions can also impact your mental health. For example, steroids used to treat inflammation can lead to anxiety and mood swings. Similarly, certain asthma medications can cause symptoms like depression and agitation. Being aware of these potential side effects can help you manage them more effectively.

Actionable Steps to Take:

If you feel that your physical health might be impacting your mental state, it’s crucial to speak openly with a healthcare provider about all the symptoms you're experiencing. Additionally, embracing a supportive network of friends and family can provide the emotional backing needed to navigate both physical and mental health challenges.

What Not to Do:

It’s essential to not dismiss ongoing physical symptoms as merely stress or mental health issues. Getting a comprehensive health evaluation is crucial, as ignoring symptoms can lead to further complications. The general rule of thumb is to address these health concerns sooner rather than later. If you're in need of a provider to help you get to the bottom of the issues you're experiencing, my practice, The Nudge, offers telehealth as an option for those who are too busy to make it in to see a provider in office.

To Wrap Things Up:

The complex relationship between our physical and mental health is an ongoing interaction that needs careful attention and management. By understanding the underlying physical causes of mental distress, we empower ourselves with the knowledge to seek more effective treatments. Let's respect the signals our bodies send us and embrace a holistic approach to our health, ensuring a better quality of life both mentally and physically.


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