How Physical Health Is Connected to Your Mental Health
During the 17th century, the mind and body were seen as separate entities working within two distinct systems and were treated within a medical model without an emphasis on mental well-being. More recently, the resurgence of the importance of emotional health has resumed and the mind-body connection has been shown to be an important component to an individuals overall health and well-being.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Let’s explore this concept by identifying 7 ways that physical health is connected to mental health. As you read through each category, think of how your own mind-body connection either negatively impacts on your life or enhances your well-being.
?Food intake is one of the most important mind-body connections and is also a necessity for our survival. According to Dietitians of Canada “the food we eat is associated with our mood, behaviour, and cognition” and is therefore intertwined with our overall mental well-being. There are many factors that can contribute to poor or inadequate diets and as a result can cause long-term detriments to both the physical and mental well-being of an individual.
More facts linking nutrition to mental health:
- Increased intake of processed foods may be increasing the prevalence of mental health diagnoses including depression.
- Food insecurity or scarcity may lead to increased stress and has been shown to be linked to anxiety and depression.
- Studies have shown deficiencies in micronutrients & Omega 3 fatty acids to increase the risk of depression; low intake of fish, fruits, and vegetables to elevate risk of depression; proper nutrition may mitigate symptoms of depression; suggestion of further study into how proper nutrition may negate follow through of suicidal ideation.
Tip: Consider speaking with a nutritionist or write to me about your own dietary habits and how they are currently impacting on your mental well-being. Co-create a nutritional plan that will fit in your budget and serve to increase your overall health.
Suggested reading: The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversations Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer
Water is also a necessary component of ever day life, and it is common knowledge that an individual is required hydrate in order to sustain life. However, the link between hydration and mental health is less well-known in society. According to the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory, “even mild dehydration can alter a person?s mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly”. How do you feel when you haven’t had enough to drink throughout the day?
Some more facts linking hydration to mental health:
- Lack of water can reduce cognitive abilities such as concentration, short-term memory, and alertness.
- A study on the effects of dehydration showed that mild dehydration was connected to significant elevations of subjective mood score, including fatigue, confusion, anger, and vigor.
- Dehydration may also play a role in the experience of delirium (mental confusion) in the elderly.
Tip: Drink eight glasses of water each day – if you’re having a hard time drinking H20 (water can be a bit boring sometimes) try drinking other liquids (tea, coffee, juice) and eating water-laden foods such as cucumber or lettuce salads. Remember to drink even if you’re not active.
Physical activity is linked with a long list of mental health benefits, from reducing symptoms of depression to increasing self-esteem and resilience, and more. According to , “physical activity immediately boosts the brain?s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels” which can benefit an individuals mental well-being and reduce symptoms related to mental health disorders. Even a little bit of exercise can be very beneficial at promoting mental wellness.
Let’s look at some more facts:
- ?Studies have suggested that 30 minutes of exercise five or more days per week can reduce symptoms of depression; exercise more effective at treating eating disorders than other therapies.
- Exercise can relieve anxiety symptoms such as stress or tension with the natural release of endorphins.
- Regular physical activity has been shown to be beneficial for people with ADHD, increasing concentration, memory & mood.
Tip: Improve your mental well-being by incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine – stick to an activity you enjoy or try out something new.
Suggested reading: Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John E. Sarno
Getting enough sleep can often mean the difference between having a productive and stress-free day or experiencing fatigue and lack of energy throughout the day, but lack of sleep can also cause serious consequences on a persons mental well-being. The link between sleep and mental well-being is still being explored, yet Harvard Health explains that “neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability”.
- Sleep problems have been linked to psychiatric disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders & ADHD.
- The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, although over 70 sleep disorders exist.
- Adequate sleep can help maintain emotional regulation; sleeplessness can lead to irritability, changes in mood, increase in angry outbursts or bouts of crying.
- Chronic sleep problems have been shown to be linked to mental health issues including PTSD. A common link suggests that sleeplessness (especially chronic) leads to increased stress and an onset for mental health issues.
5. Substance Use
According to helpguide.org “substance abuse and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are closely linked, one does not directly cause the other”. Substance use can refer to alcohol, illicit drug use, medication, or tobacco-use. The use of any of these substances can impact on the physical and mental well-being of a person, but can also cause mental health concerns to become much worse. There can often times be a stigma associated with either having a mental health disorder or a substance use problem, and seeking help for both can be even more challenging. Having support for these concerns can significantly increase a persons overall well-being.
- Alcohol or drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of depression or anxiety; can increase underlying risk for mental disorders; alcohol and drug abuse can make symptoms of a mental health problem worse.
- Medications for physical or mental concerns can have side-effects but can also alleviate many ailments or emotional disturbances – always check with a doctor before altering a dosage of prescribed medication.
- Individuals diagnosed with a mental health disorder are more likely to smoke; smoking can alleviate some symptoms connected to mental health diagnoses and may be used as a coping mechanism but are detrimental to an individuals health.?
Tip: If you, or someone you know, is concerned about substance use or addiction, reach out for more support from your doctor or a service that specializes in addictions.
?Anxiety and stress brought on by the experience of an illness can also trigger mental health disorders or exacerbate underlying symptoms related to anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns.
More facts about the connection between illness & mental health:
- People living with a chronic health condition have a higher risk of experiencing depression.
- Stigma associated with people living with chronic illness such as pain can interfere with the recovery and maintenance of physical and emotional symptoms.
- Learning to manage illness such as symptoms of pain can improve an individuals overall well-being and reduce symptoms related to a mental health condition.
Tip: Depression and anxiety are treatable – speak to a health professional for more information. Support (such as support groups, individual counselling, health & wellness coaching) for chronic illnesses may also be helpful in alleviating co-morbid experiences of mental health issues.
Suggested reading: Your Body Speaks Your Mind: Decoding the Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Messages That Underlie Illness by Debbie Shapiro
7. Social Well-being
- A study identifying the association between mental health and social well-being found that positive mental health was linked with lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of social support; lower levels of social well-being was the biggest predictor of negative mental health.
- Social well-being also relates to community and society and how interconnected an individual feels to services, government, or society in general can also impact mental well-being
Tip: Consider your social well-being in your current life.. how would you rate it? Would you say it is impacting on your overall mental health & well-being? What can you change to increase your social well-being in your immediate social connections (friends, family, etc) and your wider social network (society, community, etc)?
Want a real-life example of the impact of the mind-body connection? Listen to Lissa Rankin talk about her epiphany of understanding the important of BOTH your health AND mental health (pretty incredible!).