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Can Mental Health Affect Physical Health?

Coming down with a case of food poisoning is likely to put you in a bad mood. Getting in a great workout can significantly boost your self-confidence. In other words, the way your body feels can impact your feelings and emotions. But does it work the other way, too? Can mental health affect physical health?

The Connection Between Physical & Mental Health

You heard it here first, friends: Your brain is part of your body. OK, maybe you’d already heard this stunning anatomical fact before. Or maybe you even figured it out all on your own. But knowing something and fully grasping it aren’t necessarily the same thing.

On some level, we all know about the mind-body connection. We understand that physical movements are the results of signals that originate in the brain. Sometimes, these actions occur before we even realize what happened. For example, when we accidentally touch a hot stove, our brain gets the pain signal and triggers an almost instantaneous action. 

But when the conversation moves from how our bodies function to how they feel, many of us fail to follow along. Instead of maintaining our focus on the mind-body connection, we separate mental health from physical health. This prevents us from fully appreciating how mental health can affect physical health.

How Can Mental Health Affect Physical Health?

The primary way that mental health can affect physical health is through behavior. Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause behavioral changes that lead to physical problems. These changes can include stopping important activities (such as exercising and eating well) and developing dangerous habits (such as acting impulsively or abusing drugs). How can mental health affect physical health? Here are a few examples:

Poor Sleep Habits

Altered sleep patterns are symptoms of several mental health concerns. These alterations can include both insomnia (having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep) and hypersomnia (sleeping too much). Both of these changes can have a negative impact on a person’s physical health.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your alertness decreases. This increases your risk for slips, falls, traffic accidents, and other sources of physical injury. Insomnia has also been associated with medical concerns such as high blood pressure, a weakening of the immune system, and low sex drive. At the other end of the sleep spectrum, hypersomnia has been linked to concerns such as headaches, back pain, diabetes, and heart problems. 

Lack of Exercise

Getting an appropriate amount of exercise is important for maintaining your physical health. Regular exercise promotes muscle strength, heart health, improved immune system, better balance and coordination, lowered blood pressure, and many other desirable effects. When you incorporate exercise into your daily schedule, you are also more likely to sleep better, which can help you avoid the problems we discussed in the previous section.

But when your mental health is struggling, it can be difficult to summon the motivation you need to get your body moving. This can quickly turn into a vicious cycle. Low motivation can prevent you from exercising, and the lack of exercise can cause your mood to plummet. (Remember that mind-body connection we were talking about earlier? Here’s an example of how the effects can work in both directions.)

Failing to get adequate exercise prevents your body from reaping the many benefits that we mentioned a few paragraphs ago. A sedentary lifestyle can also increase your likelihood for developing several problems, including osteoporosis, heart disease, hypertension, and some forms of cancer. 

Unhealthy Diet

Mental health challenges can affect eating habits in the same ways they affect sleep patterns. Sometimes, poor mental health causes a lack of appetite. In other cases, mental health struggles promote overeating. As is the case with sleep, either extreme is unhealthy.

When you eat too little (or not at all) you will quickly begin to feel weak and exhausted. The longer you go without proper nutrition, the greater your risks for significant health damage become. Malnutrition can cause vitamin deficiencies, reduced muscle mass, compromised immune system, breathing problems, and a host of additional concerns.

If your mental health problems cause you to binge-eat or continually overeat, the health risks may include type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and damage to your digestive system. Depending on what types of foods you are eating, you may also still experience some effects of malnutrition, such as vitamin or iron deficiencies.  

Substance Abuse

Many mental illnesses can increase your risk for substance abuse and addiction. You may turn to drugs in an attempt to self-medicate, or temporarily numb yourself to the psychological distress you have been experiencing. You may start using alcohol or other substances as a means of escaping or hiding from overwhelming stress. Whatever prompts you to engage in this dangerous behavior, the effects can include considerable physical harm.

Depending on what drugs you use and how long you use them, the potential impact on your physical health can include the following:

  • Damage to your liver and kidneys
  • Cardiovascular (heart and lung) problems
  • Hypertension
  • Malnutrition
  • Exposure to hepatitis and HIV/AIDS (if you are abusing drugs via IV injections)
  • Physical injuries due to impaired coordination and judgment
  • Increased risk of stroke and certain types of cancer

Insufficient Self-Care

In a sense, the previous four sections are all examples of insufficient self-care. But in this section, we want to focus on how mental health challenges can distract or prevent you from performing the small but important acts that are important for maintaining good physical health. The following are examples of basic acts of self-care that you may neglect during times of low mood or other forms of emotional distress:

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Staying hydrated
  • Paying attention when you’re walking or driving
  • Tending to cuts before they become infected
  • Getting your flu shot
  • Seeing a doctor when you’re sick
  • Following the doctor’s orders if you do see one
  • Taking necessary medications as directed

Failing to tend to your physical health via these “minor” acts can have major repercussions for your continued well-being.

Find Mental Health Treatment in Nashville, TN

If you have been struggling with poor mental health, the Arbor Wellness team is here to help. Our mental health treatment center in Nashville, TN, offers residential and outpatient options for adults who have developed anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and many other concerns. When you get the care you need, your life can get much better. To learn more, give us a call or visit our admissions page.