How Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health?

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So, how does mental health affect your physical health?

I mean most of us think of physical health and mental health as very separate entities but the fact is they each affect the other much more than we realize.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.

Mental health has a direct impact on physical health and vice versa.

Co-existing mental and physical conditions can severely diminish the quality of life leading to longer illness durations and worse health outcomes.

Learning to understand the link between mind and body is a very crucial first step in developing strategies to help reduce the incidence of co-existing conditions.

For our family, understanding this link will help us be better able to support young Alex with his type 1 diabetes and our son Jon with his Celiac disease and ADHD.

Interesting how Jon has both a mental disorder(ADHD) and a chronic physical condition(Celiac disease).

Let’s get on with it then and learn how these are linked.

Mental illness

Most of us don’t realize how common mental illness really is and it covers so much more than just being depressed.

Mental illness can cover a wide range of problems, these can include anything that affects mood or something that may affect thinking or even behaviour.

Most of us have experienced mental health concerns from time to time. These don’t become an illness until they cause problems in our ability to continue to function in our daily life.

How Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health?

Examples of mental illness could be:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • schizophrenia
  • eating disorders
  • addictive behaviours

While mental illnesses can be very disruptive in our daily lives, the combination of psychotherapy and medications can effectively manage most mental illnesses.

Mental illness and diabetes

Diabetes Canada warns that living with the constant demands of living with diabetes can take a toll on your mental health. Many people experience distress, decreased mood and disabling levels of anxiety.

Mental health disorders can significantly affect your ability to cope with and treat your diabetes.

It is just as important to look after your mental health as it is your physical health.

Ask your diabetes care team about any support groups in your local area that can help you deal with the everyday pressures of living with diabetes.

How Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health? - support groups

I know our daughter and son-in-law have had a lot of positive experiences with the local group here. It just helps to be connected to other parents who are going through the same daily struggles having a type 1 child.

It was great for our grandson to also meet other type 1 kids and have playdates with kids that have the same struggles. It really helps him feel he isn’t so different.

Symptoms of Mental Illness

It is important to note that the signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary depending on the illness, and circumstances and that the symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

The symptoms can include:

  • feeling of sadness
  • confusion or inability to concentrate
  • excessive fears, worries or feelings of guilt
  • extreme mood fluctuations (very high to very low)
  • extreme tiredness, low energy and inability to sleep
  • delusions, paranoia, or hallucinations
  • inability to cope with daily stress or problems
  • difficulty understanding or relating to people and situations
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • major changes in eating habits
  • sex drive changes
  • excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • suicidal thoughts

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder can appear as a physical condition such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches or other unexplained aches and pains.

The mind-body connection

So just how are the mind and body connected?

How does mental health affect our physical health?

Well, the single biggest factor I can think of is that when we are struggling mentally, it has a significant effect on our ability to make healthy lifestyle choices.

We may choose unhealthy foods because they are convenient, we overeat or we may not eat at all.

Some people may consume alcohol or drugs or smoke in an effort to escape their mental anguish.

Exercise or sleep patterns may be interrupted.

All of these things will have a significant effect on our ability to fight off chronic illnesses.

Health complications

How Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health? - heart disease

Making poor lifestyle decisions, whether they are the result of poor mental health or not can have some rather significant effects on our physical health and can lead to more serious health challenges such as:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • weakened immune system
  • asthma
  • obesity
  • eating disorders
  • premature death

Were you aware that depression alone can cause chronic fatigue, insomnia and increased sensitivity to aches & pains due to the abnormal function of neurotransmitters in the brain?

Improve mental and physical health

Since the mind and body are so closely intertwined it makes sense that making overall lifestyle improvements will improve both mental and physical health.

DietHow Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health? - healthy diet

A healthy diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals will ensure our both our bodies and brain receive the nutrients they need for optimal health.

A healthy diet would include:

  • plenty of fruits and vegetables, there is a wide variety of both starchy and non-starchy veggies
  • lean proteins such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or legumes
  • healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds

Eating foods from each of these food groups will help boost both physical and mental health.

Exercise

I know from personal experience that regular exercise is a definite mood booster.How Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health? - walking

There are days that I get so frustrated sitting at the computer and I don’t know what to write about that day. Rather than let the frustration build, I simply go for a short 15 -30 minute walk.

It is amazing how that breath of fresh air combined with a bit of exercise lifts my mood and I find myself better able to face the challenges ahead. In fact, I have often been inspired with ideas for several new articles while walking.

Exercise gets the blood pumping throughout our brain and body. This carries oxygen and nutrients throughout our body supplying the necessary energy for our cells to do what they need to do.

Exercise also strengthens our body and immune system so it is better able to fight off infection or viruses.

Regular moderate exercise will also help keep those blood sugars in check.

Sleep

Getting adequate sleep is so important for both mental and physical health.

Ever notice how after a late or sleepless night it is much harder to function the next day? You can’t focus on your work. Little things that normally don’t bother suddenly seem so bothersome.

We become short-tempered with family, friends and co-workers.

Our body requires adequate sleep to restore rejuvenate itself.

Getting enough sleep helps us face the day’s challenges head-on with confidence.

Aim for between 7-8 hours each night.

Tips to help get that much-needed shut-eye may include:

  • go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time
  • avoid caffeinated drinks within three hours of bedtime
  • limit screen time several hours before bed
  • try reading a paper book before bedtime
  • avoid exercise within two hours of bedtime

Know when to seek help

It is important to understand that mental illness is very common and there is help available.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above please seek help immediately.

There is plenty of options for getting the help you need to deal with any mental health issues.

Your family doctor can recommend mental health practitioners or call 911 or your local emergency number in your area.

Canada:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7) or text 45645 (4 pm to 12 am ET).

Kids Help Line

Call 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free) or text CONNECT to 686868.

Available 24 hours a day to Canadians aged 5 to 29 who want confidential and anonymous care from professional counsellors.

Hope for Wellness Line

Call 1-855-242-3310 (toll-free) or connect to the online Hope for Wellness chat.

Available to all Indigenous peoples across Canada who need immediate crisis intervention. Experienced and culturally sensitive helpline counsellors can help if you want to talk or are distressed.

Telephone and online counselling are available in English and French. On request, telephone counselling is also available in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut.

USA

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat

If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counselling and mental health referrals.

SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)

Get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. Speak to a live person, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

Final thoughts

How Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health?

Mental illness is much more prevalent than we realize.

In order to protect our family and friends it is important we understand the symptoms of mental illness and know where to find help if needed.

Healthy lifestyle choices like eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and adequate can go a long way towards preventing mental illness from developing.

There is plenty of help available if you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness.

I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences. We are affiliates, this means that if you purchase something from a link or ad on this site we may receive a small commission. This in no way affects the price you pay. 

Have you or someone you know been struggling with mental illness?

What strategies worked for you?

Leave your helpful tips in the comment section below and please take care of yourself.

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12 thoughts on “How Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health?”

  1. This is seriously very helpful! Thank you so much for sharing this amazing post with us because I have my grandma who is currently a type one diabetic and she could really take some use in reading this article. I am very happy that I did not inherent this diabetes type but unfortunately she does and she feels very a overwhelmed by it.  This article will be very helpful for her

    Reply
    • Thank you for commenting, Misael. I am sorry t hear your grandmother struggles with type 1 diabetes. I do hope my site will be able to offer suggestions to help in her everyday management of type 1 diabetes. She is fortunate to have such a caring granddaughter to look out for her well-being. I wish you both the best.

      Reply
  2. Hi, you have linked a great many related issues here. Indeed our physical and mental health are so intertwined we can only handle them together with a holistic approach. You mention your own experiences with the benefits of going for a short walk and breaking up the day. I have heard that people’s body clocks can be different and for some people, it is beneficial to exercise very first thing in the morning whereas for others this is not advised. Have you found that exercise and at particular times helps either Jon or Alex with their particular conditions? Thanks, Andy

    Reply
    • Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      Yes, some people are better to exercise at certain times of the day.

      Jon has struggled with ADHD since early childhood. For him schooling was a challenge which to me makes his accomplishments that much more remarkable.

      He is currently studying for his Master’s of Divinity degree, yes he wants to be a pastor. He begins his day with exercise which an important part of caring for his Celiac disease. He gets through the rest of the day with meds to help him keep his focus and by taking regular breaks between classes.

      Alex is only a 6-year-old boy who is a bundle of energy. Thankfully, he can get outside to play at recess and lunchtime when he is at school. He gets exercise any time throughout the day.

      With Alex, we haven’t noticed that one time is better than other times.

      Thanks for these great questions, if you still need more questions answered feel free to contact me anytime. Take care.

      Reply
  3. There is a reason why the old Roman used to say “Mens sana in corpore sano”: “A healthy mind in a healthy body”.

    Since the confinement I see that most of the journalist and commentators do not realize that important aspect of our well-being. Now, I knew that diabetes could affect your moods because some of my students are affected by this problem. But I didn’t know that it could affect your mental health to that point. The symptoms that I have noticed the most are low energy,  difficulty understanding and frustration.

    Your logic to explain the mind/body connection is irrefutable. I had a discussion about that topic just 5 days ago. I will keep your argument in mind for sure.

    Hope the best for your family.

    Reply
    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it. 

      I must commend you for being such a caring teacher to notice the moods of your students.

      The link between mental health and physical health is certainly a strong one.

      I believe that is why schools have always broken the day with recesses and lunchtime. This allows the students to move their bodies and get rid of pent-up energy allowing them to better focus when class resumes.

      With the restrictions of COVID and many having to take advantage of distance learning, I believe these same time slots need to be observed, not only for the students but also for the teachers.

      It must be unbearably frustrating to see your students’ attention spans diminishing.

      I wish you luck as you continue your great work.

      Reply
  4. I couldn’t agree more with both mental and physical health being linked together. I was in some pretty tough spots last year after losing my job as a General Manager. I made really good money, my husband and I were close to buying a house, we were finally being debt free.

    I had worked at my job for years to move up, do good, make good money. And all gone in a day.

    I was very depressed after that, last year, for a long time. Slowly, it turned to anger. Anger at how I could lose the job. Anger at the people responsible, etc.

    I didn’t overcome this for some time. I still get upset if I dwell on it too much. Then, I have to try to divert my attention to something positive to not feel angry or depressed still. And it’s been over a year now. Feb 4th was the year marker.

    Being in that state, I was tired all the time. Heck, I’m still tired. I sleep on average 10 hours a day, and I can’t help it. Some days, I don’t want to get out of bed. But, I force myself. I write now, and I try to uplift myself with positive thoughts about my writing, and tell myself that I have to start my articles and get them done. Go to work I tell myself.

    It’s hard. It’s not easy to overcome. Winter in Alaska is difficult as well. We’re buried in 6 feet of snow, it’s still cold out – today it’s 19 degrees F for the high. The Sun is out today, so that’s a positive. But we have more snow in the forecast this weekend. This is our 6th month of snow in a row. We won’t see melting snow weather for about a month still. Going outside isn’t pleasant when your face freezes, even with snow pants on. Eyes get cold, lungs get cold, etc.

    Combine all this, and you tend to have some pretty depressed people around you. So, some days, we force positive thoughts. Thinking about the things we do have.

    Mental health is always connected to physical health.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Katrina

    Reply
    • Thank you Katrina for sharing your personal story. My heart feels heavy for all you have gone through.

      It is difficult to lose a job. I also had a very big struggle when I quit my job at the nursing home.

      I loved my job and I was good at it. Residents and their families all told me to keep helping people. My problem wasn’t that I was let go it was that I had to quit for my own mental health.

      I worked in palliative care and had requested several times to be transferred to another department for a while. I just needed a break from death every day. Unfortunately, my requests fell on deaf ears and I had to take my own mental health into my own hands.

      Depression was a slippery slope I easily slid down. I fought my way back and I now have my website to fill my days. I have found another way to help people and I do it on my terms. I no longer allow other people to control where or how I work.

      I live in Canada so I can relate to winter’s harsh weather and temperatures.

      When I can’t get outside I try to get some time on the treadmill. Other times I have found Youtube is full of great workout videos that you can do with no equipment other than a yoga mat. Daily exercise helps me a lot.

      I wish you the very best as you continue your battle and urge you to try some of those Youtube videos.

      Reply
  5. This is such a necessary topic today so thanks for sharing your article How Does Mental Health Affect Your Physical Health? Sometimes I think people don’t realize when they have a problem until it’s too late. So I hope people that are struggling can learn from your article. The hotlines that you have posted will also be very helpful.

    Reply
    • Thank you for taking the time to comment Alyse.

      You are so correct that many people don’t realize they have a problem until it is too late. That not only applies to mental health but physical health as well.

      All the more reason for us all to become educated on the signs and symptoms so we can recognize a potential problem in a friend or family member and get the appropriate help before it is too late.

      Those hotlines were developed for a reason and it is my hope that if someone reading my article recognizes the symptoms in themself or someone they love having the hotline number right there will help someone get the help they need and deserve.

      Thanks again and do take care.

      Reply
  6. There is no doubt that our mental health affects our physical health and the opposite is sometimes true also. I know that when I don’t handle stress well, then my blood sugar readings also get out of whack.

    It is important for us to care for the entire being because they are so intricately intertwined.

    Lovely article. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your personal experience, Josephine.

      There is a reason they call stress the silent killer, it actually has a negative effect on our entire body and mind.

      Our mental and physical health is very intertwined and it is so imperative we make healthy choices for our own well-being.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Reply

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