How Mental Health Can Affect Physical Health

Are you aware that mental health illnesses rank high among the most common conditions in the US? Yet, while their effects can be devastating, they're often not taken as seriously as they ought to be.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)¹, 450 million people across the globe are experiencing a mental illness at any given time. However, two-thirds of them do not seek professional assistance. This is due to factors such as fear of discrimination and stigma.

If you suspect that you have a mental health condition, you should seek treatment. What you may not know is that your mental health has a significant bearing on your physical health. As the condition worsens, physical symptoms may also arise.

Read on to learn more about mental health and its connection to physical health.

What is mental health?

Mental health is a critical part of your overall health. According to the CDC, it encompasses psychological, emotional, and social well-being. As such, it affects how you feel, think, and act.

Being non-discriminatory, mental health conditions can affect the young and old alike. As these conditions develop, they affect your ability to make healthy choices, handle stress, and relate to others.

Mental health conditions range from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorders. Some of the factors that may cause you to develop mental health conditions² include:

  • Loneliness or social isolation

  • Childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect

  • Social disadvantage, debt, or poverty

  • Long-term or severe stress

  • Bereavement

  • Job loss or unemployment

  • Poor housing or homelessness

  • Significant trauma as an adult

  • Long-term physical health condition

The connection between mental health and physical health

While it's easy to assume that mental and physical health are separate, that's not the case. The two are greatly intertwined, and problems in one area may affect the other.

For instance, what happens when you're stressed? You may experience headaches, constipation, nausea, chest pains, and more. These physical symptoms demonstrate how the mind and body are closely connected.

Another area where this is evident is in individuals with chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. In fact, close to a third of people who have long-term physical health ailments develop a mental health condition.

These conditions might limit what you can and cannot do, keeping you from your favorite activities. Moreover, depending on the condition, the treatment may be physically and mentally draining. As such, it's easier to become stressed and depressed.

How mental health affects physical health

In addition to impacting your lifestyle, untreated mental health conditions can also lead to preventable health conditions. Some, such as heart disease, can be chronic. Some of the reasons that can cause a mental health condition to affect your physical health include³:

Genetics

Some of the genes that increase the likelihood of developing a mental health condition also contribute to physical health problems.

Poor concentration and planning

Your mental health condition may affect your attention and ability to plan, making it hard for you to organize other medical appointments.

Low motivation

A mental health condition can drain energy levels and motivation, causing you to neglect yourself. 

Reduced likelihood of receiving medical care

Sadly, healthcare providers may assume physical symptoms are part of your mental health condition, thus not giving them the necessary attention and care.

Steps you can take to improve mental health

Having a mental health condition does not mean you will develop a physical health problem. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to increase your chances of remaining physically healthy. These include:

1. Eating well

Food is the fuel for the body and mind. As such, what you eat can significantly affect your energy levels and mood. Moreover, a good diet can help prevent and manage mental health conditions such as dementia and depression³.

Ensure your diets contain healthy amounts of proteins, vitamins, minerals, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, and water.

2. Exercise

Along with being good for your body, exercise is great for the mind⁴ as well. As you exercise, endorphins are released into your body. These are also known as 'feel-good hormones.' As a result, exercise has been found to have a significant positive impact on stress, anxiety, depression, and ADHD.

In addition, exercise helps improve:

  • Memory

  • Quality of sleep

  • Mood

The best part is that you only need to do moderate exercise to experience such benefits. A 10-to-15-minute jog will do the trick.

Other steps you can take to improve mental health include:

  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs

  • Trying relaxation techniques

  • Journaling

  • Getting enough sleep

The lowdown

One of the challenges with mental health conditions is that they manifest slowly and may be hard to detect. Either way, the impact may be detrimental to your physical health and social life.

If you've noticed some signs or you're just not feeling your best, visit a doctor.

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