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How your mental health affects your physical health

By Anne Marie Oberheu | May 3, 2019 | Healthy Lifestyle

A line of women on yoga mats in a group class

The link between mental health and physical health is often misunderstood. They’re often thought of as separate entities, but the two go hand in hand. In fact, the World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.

The perceived disconnect between “mind” and “body” creates the misconception that mental illness is not a physical disease. In reality, mental health has a direct impact on your physical health.

Many of us are not aware of how common mental illness is. About one in five adults has a mental illness in any given year. Mental illness is more than just being depressed. It covers a wide range of problems, spanning from ones that affect mood to those that affect thinking or behavior. Examples include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar depression
  • Addictive behaviors

Connecting the Mind and Body

So, you might be wondering, exactly how does my mental health affect my physical health? Well, poor mental health can affect your ability to make healthy decisions and fight off chronic diseases.

What’s more, neglecting your mental health can lead to more serious health complications such as:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Gastronomical problems
  • Premature death

Depression alone can cause chronic fatigue, insomnia and increased sensitivity to aches and pains due to abnormal function of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Tips to Help You Create a Healthy Body and Mind

Just taking care of your mind isn’t the best way to maintain or improve your mental health. Here are some ways you can improve your mental and physical health:

Exercise regularly.

Exercise can release feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that can ease depression and anxiety. Choose a program or form of exercise that works for you. This may be cardio-intense interval training or a more mindful and intention-driven yoga practice or something in between. What’s key is that you stick to it.

Eat a healthy diet.

Diets loaded with processed, high-calorie and low-nutrient foods have been linked with increased depression and anxiety. Avoid skipping meals, which can lead to fatigue and unhealthy snacking. Try to include fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, like avocados, into your meals. This will be helpful for increased brain function.

Maintain a normal sleep schedule.

Not getting enough sleep has been linked with depression, anxiety and stress. The recommendation for adults is seven or more hours of sleep per night. If you’re having trouble falling and staying asleep, try one of the following:

  • relaxing before bed
  • lowering your caffeine intake, or
  • setting a stricter schedule for bedtime

Get support.

Your social circle is also a vital aspect to preventing a decline in mental health. But mental health can be a difficult topic to discuss with peers. This often prevents people from seeking help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family for support.

Don’t Wait to Get Help

In many cases, people seek out a mental health expert only after a crisis has occurred. According to a 2016 study by the Columbia University Medical Center, less than a third of American adults who screened positive for depression received treatment for their symptoms. Getting help earlier can prevent mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, from developing.

If you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health condition, it is important to contact a medical professional who can help you. Eating right and exercising can help some people improve their mental health. However, others may need medication or counseling to see changes. By partnering with a medical expert, you will be better able to find out what’s right for you.

Additional help is available from these resources:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis.
    • If you need help, please dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • For more information on how mental health affects your physical health, visit the Mayo Clinic website.