Our mental and physical health have such an important relationship to one another. It’s difficult for one to be optimal if the other isn’t, yet sometimes we underestimate the importance of taking care of our mental health in the same way we do with our physical health.
In some cases, the links between physical and mental health can be fairly obvious. For example, if you suffer an illness it may diminish your mental health, and PTSD develops after a highly traumatic event including the diagnosis of a health condition.
In other ways, the links can be less apparent but no less important.
The following are some of the ways physical and mental health affect one another.
Direct Effects of Anxiety on the Body
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders people experience, and it can heavily affect physical health.
When you experience anxiety and especially prolonged periods of anxiety, it can increase the risk of developing chronic physical health conditions.
Anxiety is thought to come from the amygdala in the brain, which is the area responsible for managing your emotional responses. When you experience stress or fear, your brain signals this to other parts of your body, which is where the fight-or-flight response comes from. The body then releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Having your body release the chemicals in a fairly constant state over the long-term will likely affect your physical health.
For example, anxiety can change your heart rate and blood circulation, which can then increase the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
Prolonged anxiety can also impair your immune function and increase the release of substances that cause inflammation.
In many ways, our guts act in a way that’s similar to our brain and the gut and brain are very much related to one another.
When you experience mental health issues, including anxiety or depression, it can impair your digestion.
Some research links both depression and stress to digestive diseases like irritable bowel syndrome.
One study that was done at a gastroenterology clinic in Mumbai found that anywhere from 30 to 40% of participants with IBS also had depression or anxiety.
When you are dealing with a mental health issue of any kind, you may want to self-medicate with the use of drugs or alcohol.
That self-medication can have serious effects on your physical health.
For example, alcohol and tobacco use are linked to the development of many types of cancers.
Heart Disease and Depression
Depression often occurs in people with chronic illnesses including heart-related illnesses. Sometimes it’s unclear which comes first. For example, does the depression make it more likely someone will develop heart disease or vice versa?
Someone struggling with depression may find that it’s difficult to live a healthy overall life. They may eat more or make poorer food choices and lack the energy to exercise, and those are factors that can, in turn, increase the likelihood of developing a cardiovascular condition.
Other Physical Signs of Problems With Emotional Health
Some of the other physical manifestations of emotional health problems include:
- Back pain or other forms of chronic pain
- Appetite changes
- Extreme fatigue
- High blood pressure
- Sexual dysfunction
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain or loss
- Shortness of breath
What Should You Do To Improve Your Mental and Physical Health?
What’s important in health is that it’s approached holistically. This means that you pay as much attention to what’s going on mentally as what’s going on physically.
When you visit your doctor, don’t be afraid to talk about psychological or mental issues and symptoms you may be experiencing, because you may be surprised just how much they are affecting you physically.
Sometimes, if you can work with your doctor to treat the underlying mental health symptoms, you may find that you’re then able to improve the physical symptoms.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with your doctor about all of the symptoms you’re experiencing and talking about your health in a more holistic way, you might need to find another doctor with whom you feel more comfortable communicating.
If you can find ways to deal with your mental health, including anxiety or depression, in better ways, then you’re likely to be able to also find ways to improve your physical health. There’s no way to have one without the other, and that’s something the healthcare industry is increasingly starting to understand.