- Chronic illness is a significant contributor to mental disorders.
- A chronic illness diagnosis, treatment practice, or resulting state of mind can all lead to mental health symptoms.
- Many chronic conditions — including Lyme disease, mold toxicity, and parasites — can disrupt your mental health.
- To address mental health challenges, you may need to target root causes and your body's toxicity levels.
- A combination of herbal support, mindfulness techniques, and nutritional strategies can help assist your mental health.
Anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions are complex disorders with many contributing factors. One contributor is chronic illness. Chronic illness plays a big part in triggering and worsening mental disorders.
If you're experiencing a mental health challenge, you may have heard it's "all in your head" or "just something to get over." But that's far from the truth. Your mental and physical well-being is connected. A downturn in one can affect the other. Mental health challenges can take over your whole body's wellness. And a chronic illness may completely derail your mental health.
Chronic illness is rarely simple or straightforward. You may have overlapping issues, or have a chronic illness that is hard to pinpoint, like Lyme disease. Because of this, finding and addressing the root cause of a chronic issue can take some time. But your mental health symptoms are likely immediate. You might be experiencing anxiety, fatigue, lack of motivation, sadness, or other debilitating symptoms.
Fortunately, simple and effective natural strategies exist for supporting mental health.
Ways Chronic Illness Leads to Mental Health Challenges
If you have a life-threatening or chronic illness diagnosis, you may feel the effects psychologically. After all, you often adjust many aspects of your life because of it. You may have even heard that "this is just something you will have to live with now." Anxiety, fear, grief, and sadness are common initial reactions. This can also lead to long-term anxiety and depression. (1)
Besides natural reactions to a life-altering diagnosis, the standard treatment for a chronic condition may affect a person's mood. Many therapies and pharmaceutical protocols have psychological side effects.
The disease itself may also impact your state of mind. Some health conditions lead to disability, functional limitations, pain, and other physical constraints. This all contributes to an anxious or depressive psyche.
With all of this in mind, It may be challenging for you and healthcare professionals to differentiate these reactions from mental illness.
Potential Chronic Illnesses Involved
As mentioned, chronic illness may be the root cause of mental health challenges. Unfortunately, testing for chronic illnesses can be unreliable depending on the illness. Once healthcare professionals have reviewed lab work and scans, they may not find any concrete, verifiable disease. And what about the anxiety or depression?
In such a situation, you may end up taking “maintenance” psychiatric medications for many years. But pathogens and toxins in your body could be causing the mental health symptoms. Inflammation and nervous system disruption can lead to the symptoms currently used to diagnose mental illness. This is why it's essential to address root causes and your body's toxicity. (2)
A variety of chronic conditions, including the following, may lead to mental health symptoms.
Autoimmune conditions: Abnormal autoimmune activity has been implicated in a number of neuropsychiatric disorders. (3)
Chronic Lyme disease: The bacteria behind the disease can also interfere with your body's neurotransmitters. About 40% of those with chronic Lyme disease experience neurological symptoms. Anxiety, major depression, and panic attacks are all common. (4, 5, 6)
EMF/EMR exposure: Bluetooth, cell towers, smart devices, WiFi, and so on emit EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) and EMR (electromagnetic radioactive elements). Research has found multiple neurological and psychiatric effects — anxiety, cognitive disorders, and depression — from EMR/EMFs. High exposure or long duration can create more severe and varied responses. (7)
Environmental and heavy metal toxicity: Environmental toxin and heavy metal overload can cause common mental health challenges that mimic many psychiatric diseases. (8)
Mold toxicity: The build-up of mold toxins in the body can cause an adverse reaction. Mold toxins create chronic inflammation and are highly indicated in neurological issues, including anxiety, brain fog, and depression. (9)
Parasites: In a human host, a parasitic infection can lead to mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. Parasites are especially known to interfere with neurotransmitters. In order to survive, they slow down your natural processes. Parasites may affect acetylcholine, dopamine, GABA, and serotonin production. All of these neurotransmitters impact essential areas like mood, motivation, sleep, and overall mental well-being. (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16)
Pathogenic infections: Chronic stress and inflammation from pathogenic infections can lead to anxiousness and mood instability. (17)
Natural Ways to Support Mental Health
You can support your mental health with a combination of herbal support, mindfulness techniques, and nutritional strategies. All of these can work together to boost the body and mind collectively.
Clinical research has found that herbal and nutritional support is useful for addressing anxiety and other mood-related conditions — without the risk of major side effects. Strong evidence exists that herbal and mineral-rich support may help relieve anxiety and depression. Consider these for support: (18, 19, 20, 21)
Aromatherapies (essential oils)
- B complex vitamins (vitamins)
- GABA (amino acid/neurotransmitter)
- Homeopathic remedies
- Kava (herbal)
- Magnesium (mineral)
- Melatonin (a hormone to induce sleep)
- Passionflower (herbal)
- St. John’s Wort (herbal)
- Valerian root (herbal)
- 5-HTP (amino acid/chemical precursor to serotonin)
Meditation, Mindfulness, and Movement Strategies
Mood issues and other mental health issues respond favorably when we calm, redirect, and refocus the mind. Techniques involving conscious relaxation and mindfulness have been used for many thousands of years. A few methods that can help counter anxiety and depression include: (22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28)
- Breathing techniques
- EFT Tapping
- Engaging with the natural world (companion animals, time outdoors, etc.)
- Listening to uplifting music
- Naming techniques
Mindful movement and physical activity
Symptoms of anxiety and depression can also improve with physical activity. Exercise and movement release feel-good chemicals into your bloodstream. They also divert your focus so that negative or obsessive thoughts don’t consume you. (29)
Even light physical activity, such as regular walking, may help lift mood. You could also choose mindful movement and breathwork practices like tai chi, qigong, or yoga.
Eating a balanced diet and drinking enough water are important dietary considerations. But there are other nutritional strategies you can employ to reduce anxiety and depression.
Asparagus — Steroidal saponins, the main biologically active constituents of asparagus, have been shown to have anxiety-reducing properties. (30)
- B vitamins — B vitamins are essential for neural function, so deficiencies are also linked to depression. Because of this, B-complex vitamins may help improve anxiety and depression symptoms. Foods high in B vitamins include almonds, avocados, leafy greens, legumes, and whole grains. (31, 32)
- Dark chocolate — Flavonoids in cocoa have significant antioxidant properties, and research has shown it provides several beneficial brain actions. Chocolate flavonoids may also improve mood and have a positive effect on cognitive abilities as you age. (33)
Magnesium-rich foods — An essential mineral for the body, magnesium is naturally present in many foods. This includes avocados, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Magnesium significantly contributes to processes that maintain mental health. (34)
Omega-3s — When you have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain, it can cause neuroinflammation and nerve signaling disruption. These can compromise your mental state. Wild-caught fish, like salmon, are high in omega-3s. (35)
Zinc-rich foods — Low zinc levels in the blood are a biological marker for depression. Zinc support has been shown to have antidepressant and anxiety-reducing effects in humans. Or you can increase your intake of zinc-rich foods, including cashews, grass-fed beef and liver, oysters, and pastured eggs. (36)
Blood sugar imbalances
Besides these nutritional adjustments, another key area is blood sugar. Blood sugar imbalances play a significant role in almost all chronic diseases. Rapid blood sugar fluctuations can cause: (37, 38, 39, 40)
- Chronic inflammation
- Hormone imbalances
- Neurotransmitter imbalances
- Weight gain
All of these, individually and collectively, may lead to difficulty handling stress, low mood, and an increased likelihood of anxiety. Balancing blood sugar is a detailed conversation in itself. But you can try adjusting your diet or use intermittent fasting to support your blood sugar stabilization efforts.
Removing potential triggers
Items you consume daily — like coffee and food flavorings — can also have stimulating effects. Eliminating or reducing these substances could help decrease anxiety and depression symptoms. These substances include: (41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46)
- Excitotoxins (MSG and glutamate-containing food additives)
- Food allergens (including corn, dairy, eggs, gluten, nuts, and soy)
Long-term Mental Health Strategies
Natural ways to support the body can help when experiencing mental health symptoms. It also offers alternatives for those concerned about psychiatric medication. But in the long-term, you may need to do more digging into your health. Mental health issues have a root cause in some cases. Chronic illness can be a significant driver of anxiety and depression.
Working with a healthcare professional may help you target potential root causes. You may also consider going through a detox protocol designed to reset the body's essential functions.
Just as important as these strategies, remember mindset. What you are experiencing is not "all in your head." But the head is where you start healing. When you look forward with a positive mindset, you set your body on a path for change and transformation.
What will be your first step in fighting back against chronic illness and mental health challenges?