7 Ways Your Mental Health Affects Your Physical Health (And Vice Versa)

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You may not realize that your mental health affects your physical health, but your body is a whole. Take care of one and you take care of the other.

Four doctors in different colored scrubs holding stethoscopes and standing in a line

How Mental Health Affects Physical Health

For many, many centuries, mental health has been something that people have recognized. Whether it was shameful or empowering, mental health problems have been documented and discussed. 

A taboo subject for much of recent history, mental health conditions were often hidden and pushed into the “family secrets” category. If Grandma suffered from depression, she was sent away and the kids didn’t know why. If Uncle Joe had bipolar disorder, he was the wacky uncle that you only saw on holidays. 

Today, things are beginning to change. People are starting to understand that mental health disorders are just as important as physical health problems – and there’s a connection. 

Our body is a single, large, complicated unit where our overall health is important. Changes to our mental wellbeing can have a direct impact on our bodies and display themselves as physical symptoms. Are these physical manifestations real even though they’re being caused by mental issues? Absolutely. 

At the beginning of their constitution, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” They have always believed that physical and mental well-being was interlinked, so it is time that society gets to see that more clearly. 

For a very long time, the body and the mind were seen as separate entities, but with the spotlight back on mental health, it’s time to look at how the mind-body connection really works. 

1. How Stress Affects Your Physical Health

We all know that stress can lead to flushed cheeks and a rapid heart rate, but it can get much more serious. Chronic stress can increase your risk factors for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. 

Additionally, living in a state of mental distress can weaken the immune system, which makes those living with chronic diseases and chronic illness at increased risk for serious side effects related to their conditions. 

While stress can have a negative effect on physical health and bring about a higher risk for future physical challenges, lowering psychological distress can have the opposite effect. 

Finding ways to release your stress, do some relaxation techniques, and keep a positive attitude are great ways to keep your medical conditions from exacerbating. Especially when you have a long-term physical health condition yourself or a family risk of heart attack or heart disease, finding a way to calm yourself can go a long way towards keeping your body in check. 

2. How Hydration Affects Your Mental Health

It is common knowledge that water sustains life, but you may not equate that to your own body. In order to live and maintain our physical well-being, sufficient hydration is important.

Health experts recommend that we drink eight glasses of water every day. And while many of us drink when we are thirsty, most people don’t drink the recommended amount of water. 

If you knew that there was a link between your mental health and hydration, could it change your mind? According to the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory, research shows that “even mild dehydration can alter a person’s mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly.” It can also affect concentration, mental alertness, and short-term memory. 

This means that drinking only when you are thirsty can lead to altered brain function, negative emotions, and chronic fatigue in daily life. This starts a cycle where a person’s physical health affects their mental health, which goes on to affect their physical health.

In the end, healthy decisions when it comes to hydration can greatly improve your quality of life. 

3. How Nutrition Affects Your Mental Health

We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat,” but most of us don’t heed that advice. It is much easier to pick up fast food than to make yourself grilled chicken and vegetables at home. 

Good mental health is often associated with a balanced diet. When we focus on healthy eating, it is thought to be part of bettering one’s self. This means focusing on one’s physical health, mental health, and living an overall healthy lifestyle. 

On the other end of this stick is the relationship between poor food choices and either negative or unstable emotional health. We all know that when we’re having a rough time, pizza looks a lot more appealing than salad. Your motivation to eat stems from heavy emotions and not hunger. 

Once we give in to these cravings, our need is temporarily satiated, but we also feel less energetic and more lethargic. We let our mental health affect our physical health. 

The good news is that there are ways to hold yourself accountable. One great way is to engage a family member or friend. Agree that you are each going to do routine checks with each other and monitor your food consumption.

This doesn’t mean going on a permanent healthy diet where no straying is acceptable, but try to make some better overall choices. If you are both interested in making a change, you can lovingly hold each other accountable. 

4. How Exercise Affects Your Mental Health

When one is managing mental health issues, physical activity is often the last thing we’re interested in. Being lethargic, carelessly eating, and living in a general state of poor physical health often go hand in hand. 

An easy way to induce some positive emotions, as well as good physical health care, is through regular exercise. Engaging in any kind of physical fitness for 20 minutes 5 days per week will help with weight control, reduce the risk of diabetes, improve cardiovascular health, and more. 

This is because when we get enough exercise (or any at all), the blood flow and activity lead to an increase in endorphins. These “feel good” chemicals improve both your physical health and your psychological health which in turn puts you in a better mood. 

When we are in a better mental state, we can more easily stave off mental illnesses like major depression and mood disorders. 

5. How Smoking and Substance Abuse Affects Your Overall Health

Most people who smoke cigarettes or use drugs will tell you that beyond any physical addiction, they are doing it to self-medicate. That they are choosing drug use over dealing with any mental health issues or history of trauma that they may be dealing with. 

Cigarette smokers often report smoking to manage sudden anxiety or negative feelings in the workplace, at home, or anywhere else. While this may be temporary relief in the way of habitual calm (you enjoy lighting the cigarette, holding the cigarette, etc.), research shows that smoking may actually increase your feelings of anxiety as soon as the withdrawal symptoms kick in. 

Both substance abuse and smoking lead to chronic illnesses that can severely impact your physical wellbeing.

At the same time, the use of these chemicals can have a serious impact on mental health (as one can’t develop healthy coping skills), which is often the reason one starts using them to begin with.

There is nothing so bad that professional help can’t assist with. To get out of the cycle of serious denial and mental pain, seeking mental health services is your best bet for a happier, fulfilling future. 

6. How Sleep Affects Your Overall Health

One of the first questions that your doctor asks during your yearly physical is about how you have been sleeping. The amount of sleep that you get each night can be an excellent indicator of whether one is dealing with either physical or mental health challenges. 

When we get enough sleep, we have reduced stress, clearer thinking, and more focus. After a night of voluntary sleep deprivation, you may notice that you feel hungry, irritable, and have other symptoms of poor mental health. 

Sleep is a vital part of the body’s overall health and most healthy people get what their body needs. Staying up late every night will not only leave you tired, it will leave you at risk for a compromised immune system and exacerbated mental health issues. 

Those who manage physical illnesses will tell you that they feel worse if they haven’t slept well and with only a few nights of poor sleep, everyone will suffer from a lack of energy, a decline in cognitive function, and increased stress hormones. If there is only one thing that you can do for yourself each day, make sleep the priority. 

7. How Mental Illness Affects Your Physical Health

We have all experienced some level of anxiety and depression at some point in our lives. Feeling anxious or sad is natural in various circumstances. 

Whether you are suffering from a diagnosed anxiety disorder, severe depression, another mood disorder, or just know what it is to be stuck in the cycle of these feelings, mental disorders have a strong link to various physical issues. 

While the general population will move through these feelings without suffering long-term physical consequences, untreated serious mental illness can lead to stomach issues, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, migraines, and more. 

There is no shame in having to seek mental health care – it is the same as seeking medical health care for something like diabetes or a thyroid disorder. But not following through on getting the help can seriously alter your physical health. 

We don’t always realize how mental health affects our physical health, but they are often one and the same. Our brains, the way they function, and the bodies in which they live are all connected. Do your due diligence to take care of yourself and you’ll see a positive impact on both your body and mind

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