The Link Between Physical Health and Mental Health

You’re sitting in your car after another disappointing appointment with your primary care provider. Your poor physical health and well-being have been interfering with your quality of life, and now your doctor thinks your physical health problems are all in your head. As you sit in your car, your blood pressure rises as your frustration levels peak. Feeling dismissed, of course, you feel anxious and maybe even a little depressed, but it’s not all in your head! Or is it?

The healthcare industry is slow to change, but we are seeing a shift as the pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health. Physical health conditions, chronic disease, and medical conditions caused by lifestyle are now being found to connect to our mental state directly. As the healthcare industry begins normalizing conversations about mental health, our physical health and well-being will improve.

This blog explores the link between our physical and mental health, provides practical tips on how to take care of both, and lets you know when it’s an excellent time to seek help from a therapist. 

Effects of physical health on mental health

Chronic disease and other physical health conditions can negatively impact mental health. Illness-related anxiety and stress can cause depression, so good behavioral health care is vital for dealing with a chronic health condition. Coping with new limitations, financial stressors, and chronic disease’s social implications may make you feel overwhelmed. 

While it’s normal to feel anxious or depressed temporarily as you adjust and navigate through the new realities and limitations that a chronic disease brings, feeling down or anxious for more than a few weeks may mean you have depression. Risk factors for depression in people with a chronic illness include a personal or family history of depression or a family member that has died from suicide.

 Some chronic diseases are directly linked to depression by causing changes in the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease. Be open to speaking to your provider about mental health care as a part of caring for your overall health.

Physical Activity and Your Health

It’s no surprise that physical activity positively affects our physical health by reducing our risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, and heart attack, but it also improves our mental health. 

Physical activity causes the brain to release endorphins such as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA that help the body relax and release stress. Physical activity and regular exercise improve your mood by decreasing anxiety and depression, increasing cognition, and assisting the body in getting enough sleep. Taking steps to improve physical health through regular exercise has also been linked to improved self-esteem.

Effects of Mental Health on Physical Health

Your brain is the strongest organ in your body. The brain controls the central nervous system that monitors your heart rate, breathing, and other body parts responsible for keeping you alive. That’s why having a foundation of good mental health is essential. The brain has neuroplasticity, or the ability to change throughout life. That’s good news because you can create new pathways daily to better overall health.

Tending to our mental health has recently been brought to the forefront as a critical component of improving physical health and well-being. Poor mental health has adverse effects on every aspect of our lives, from physical health to emotional and spiritual well-being. Stress and anxiety change our behaviors and our bodies through poor diet, lack of exercise, not getting enough sleep, and negative thought patterns. Learning positive coping strategies with a behavioral health plan can help you build resilience.

Mental illness is at crisis levels in our country, indicating a large shift in our quality of life. Adolescents are particularly at risk, as their brains are still developing. The isolation brought on by the pandemic and other factors has interrupted and changed the normal mental development of adolescents and children. 

Some behavioral health conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have genetic components; all mental health conditions benefit from a behavioral health plan

Those who suffer from chronic disease and other physical health conditions often have difficulty with mobility and develop anxiety about physical rehabilitation. Improving mental health first may reduce that anxiety and improve their response to physical rehabilitation. 

How to Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health

Making improvements to your mental and physical health doesn’t have to be complicated. Remember, change starts with a tiny step forward. Give yourself grace and compassion, as missteps are all part of the process of growing. Don’t overwhelm yourself with many changes at once. The smaller you start, the more you will accomplish. Making your good mental health a priority can begin with any one of the following:

  • Start a daily gratitude practice. Start your day by remembering what you are grateful for. You can do this while brushing your teeth or driving to work – try to pair this with a regular activity you do daily.
  • Get some physical activity. Just taking a short walk has been proven to elevate mood and positively benefit overall health.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is the most critical change we can make. Our bodies restore themselves physically and mentally during sleep. Not getting enough sleep is damaging and doesn’t allow the body to recharge.
  • Eat more whole foods, fruits, and veggies. Food fuels mood! Just making the small change of eating an apple for dessert instead of ice cream a few times a week can make significant changes.
  • Spend time outside. Not only is this an easy change to make, but studies have proven that seeing blue and green in natural environments promotes good mental health and emotional well-being, lessens aggression, and decreases anxiety. Meditation outdoors enhances this benefit.
  • Maintain regular health care visits with your primary care doctor. Integrative and lifestyle medicine fields are changing the conversation. Doctors realize that a whole-body medicine approach is indicated now more than ever – be open to discussions with your doctor. If your doctor is unwilling to listen or validate your experience, consider changing providers.
  • Take your prescribed medications. Taking medications how they were prescribed can alleviate symptoms that become obstacles to improvement. You have to give somemedications time to work, so don’t stop taking them too soon!. You can always remove or adjust medications with your doctor if they are not helping as they should. 
  • Establish a behavioral health care plan to address mental health care with your therapist to help manage stress and build resilience.

Work with a Therapist to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health

Working with a therapist is as essential as breathing to living your optimal life. More people reap its benefits as we remove the stigma surrounding mental health care. Mental health care is a regular, and integral part of routine health care. Everyone can improve their psychological and physical health and outlook with therapy. Choose a mental health care provider that fits your needs, validates, and offers support.SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services offers a wide variety of providers from various disciplines and specialties, so finding a provider you feel comfortable with should be the easiest part of the journey. We can assist you with everything from talk therapy to medication management or simply guide you through starting the process if you are unsure what you may need. Taking a step towards optimal mental health can be empowering and motivational, so what are you waiting for? Take that first small step today, and let our office guide you on your journey to health and happiness.

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