How Mental Health Affects Physical Well-Being
The body is one whole, living, breathing organism — a system with different parts that are intricately connected. No wonder what goes on in our minds manifests itself in our bodies and vice versa. Of the two, our physical well-being seems to be easier to understand. Anything physical is tangible and, therefore, easier to subject to examination, but that doesn’t mean that our mental health is less important and should take a back seat. Knowing and understanding the connection between psychological and physical health is crucial. What exactly is mental health, though, and how are the mind and body connected? Keep reading to learn how mental health affects physical well-being.
Understanding Mental Health
Mental health is undoubtedly one of this generation’s most defining buzz phrases. With all the stressors of modern life compounded by social media, current events, and a single global pandemic that forced many of us into isolation, mental health has suddenly come into the glare of the spotlight.
The term itself refers to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, which can affect how we feel, think, and act. Mental health also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. You may feel like you have a mental illness, and nobody understands you. However, you are not alone because it is more common than people think.
In the United States alone, the CDC reports that more than 50% of the population will receive a mental illness diagnosis at some point in their lifetime. Furthermore, about one in five Americans experience a mental illness in a year. Even children feel the effects of mental illness; one in five will have a seriously debilitating mental illness at some point.
How Poor Mental Health Affects Physical Health
The mind-body connection is much stronger than we think. When our minds suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental affliction, it shows in our bodies in the following ways.
Eating and Digestion
‘Butterflies in the stomach,’ a ‘gut-wrenching’ experience, or feeling your ‘stomach drop’ are just some of the expressions we’ve internalized that highlight the connection between digestive health and our emotions. Feelings of stress and anxiety can trigger changes in our gastrointestinal system and could be the likely cause of eating disorders, especially when no physical reason is apparent.
Sleep and Energy
Anxiety, depression, and chronic stress make you tired and drained of energy, and they can also affect the length and quality of your sleep. If not addressed, these feelings of fatigue and the inability to turn off the stressors at night may lead to chronic sleep problems and even insomnia.
The heart is sensitive to our changing moods and mental states. Stress, for example, can trigger the release of cortisol, a hormone that increases our blood pressure and heart rate. For those who already have pre-existing heart conditions or are at risk for cardiovascular disease, this becomes a compounding factor in the development of heart disease.
When stress, anxiety, and other mental afflictions become constant and chronic, it can negatively impact our bodies’ overall health. Seeing how mental illness can affect our physical well-being in different ways and manifest in various organs and systems in our bodies, it is not surprising that if left untreated, any mental condition we suffer from will reduce our life expectancy. From decreasing our immunity to disrupting the functions of different systems in our bodies, mental illness doesn’t just wreak havoc in our minds; it also diminishes our bodies.
How to Take Care of Physical and Mental Health
Creating the best conditions that will allow your mind and body to thrive is a no-brainer. A 2012 study from the Economic and Social Research Council reveals that of the 5,000 adolescents between the age of 10 and 15 surveyed, those who lived a healthier lifestyle were happier than those who indulged in unhealthy habits, including drinking, smoking, and eating junk food. Thus, engaging in the following practices can help keep our minds and bodies healthy.
- Exercise regularly. Not only does regular exercise help increase circulation and keep you physically fit, but it can also significantly boost your mood by triggering the release of endorphins. This hormone makes you feel energetic and happy.
- Eat a proper diet. Being mindful of the kinds of food we put in our bodies can significantly affect our mental well-being. Swapping out processed, fatty, and sugary food for fruits and vegetables is an excellent first step.
- Get enough rest. Sleep is regenerative and integral to how our bodies grow, heal and recover from the stresses of each day. Experts recommend anywhere from seven to nine hours each night, while 30-minute naps during the daytime can be an option to increase alertness.
- Take a deep breath. Most people take breathing for granted, but it is actually one of the best and easiest ways to relax. Taking deep breaths, focusing, and meditating are all helpful in creating a healthier headspace.
- Stay positive. While it may feel trite to say it, keeping a positive attitude helps prevent spiraling into despair. Eliminating negative self-talk and silencing the inner critic may not be easy, but it is a kindness we can bestow upon ourselves that will do wonders for our mental health.
- Ask for help. Nobody can do this alone, and you don’t have to. While it’s essential to start by doing what you can to help yourself, it is just as vital to reach out to the people around you and ask for help. Family, friends, and even professionals may help ease the burden of going through a significant experience alone.
Are You Ready for a Healthy Change?
If you are dealing with mental health issues, you are not alone. Please reach out to our medical professionals for help. From inpatient residential care to outpatient programs, we have treatment plans that will support you through recovery. Don’t let your mental health affect your physical well-being any longer. It’s time to start feeling better. Please schedule a free assessment or call to ask any questions.