By: Adam J. Raulerson, MS, LMFT
While we all know that mental health is important – especially after all the stress and isolation that accompanied COVID-19 – it isn’t just your mood and emotional well-being that are affected by your mental state.
In fact, the mind-body connection is stronger than you may think. Experts have found that good mental health can have a direct and positive effect on physical health. The opposite is also true – poor mental health can have a negative effect on physical health.
Now, this doesn’t mean that if you have an occasional bad day or a stressful week that your physical health is going to suffer as a result. However, it is an important reminder to not ignore or downplay mental health struggles or chronic stress and anxiety. In the same way you listen to your physical health needs, you also need to be mindful of your mental health needs.
Let’s take a closer look at how mental health can impact physical health, here are 4 surprising ways they’re connected:
This doesn’t just refer to ‘butterflies’ or the nauseous feeling you may experience in your stomach when you’re nervous before a big event. Those sensations are just one example of how the mind can impact the gut. In fact, it’s been found that chronic depression, stress and/or anxiety can actually change the physiology of the digestive tract, affecting the way it functions, and, in some cases, intensifying pain and discomfort.
Sleep Health & Energy
Not only can chronic stress and depression spur on feelings of fatigue and a lack of energy, it can also affect your ability to get sound sleep. With a lack of sleep, symptoms related to stress, anxiety and depression can be amplified, and in turn, make it even more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Eventually, this can contribute to the development of sleep disorders, including insomnia or sleep apnea.
When it comes to the health of your heart, there are a variety of factors that can increase your risk for disease, including high blood pressure, increased and sustained heart rate, as well as calcium build-up. All of these risk factors can be impacted mental health. For example, when you’re in a state of stress, the body releases the hormone, cortisol, which causes a spike in blood pressure and heart rate. Overtime, high levels of stress or chronic depression, anxiety or PTSD may increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Because mental health has such an extensive impact on the entire body, it’s been found that severe and chronic mental health issues can actually decrease over all life expectancy. This is due to the fact that mental illness can impact everything from immune health to resilience through chronic health conditions – and beyond.
Lasting Mental Well-Being
In daily life, it can be difficult to find the time to prioritize mental health – but, you don’t have to do it alone. To ensure that everyone has the tools, support and care they need to thrive, NGHS offers several behavioral health resources.