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How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 29, 2021

Although the mind and body are often viewed as being separate, mental and physical health are actually closely related. Good mental health can positively affect your physical health. In return, poor mental health can negatively affect your physical health.  

Effects of Mental Health on Physical Health

Your mental health plays a huge role in your general well-being. Being in a good mental state can keep you healthy and help prevent serious health conditions. A study found that positive psychological well-being can reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes.

On the other hand, poor mental health can lead to poor physical health or harmful behaviors.

Chronic diseases. Depression has been linked to many chronic illnesses. These illnesses include diabetes, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis. 

Schizophrenia has also been linked to a higher risk of heart and respiratory diseases.

Mental health conditions can also make dealing with a chronic illness more difficult. The mortality rate from cancer and heart disease is higher among people with depression or other mental health conditions.

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‌Sleep problems. People with mental health conditions are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, like insomnia or sleep apnea. Insomnia can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sleep apnea leads to breathing problems, which can cause you to wake up frequently.

Around 50% to 80% of people with mental health conditions will also have sleeping problems. Only 10% to 18% of the general population experience sleeping problems.

While conditions like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder may lead to sleep problems, sleep problems can also make existing mental health conditions worse.

Smoking. People with mental health conditions are more likely to smoke than those who do not have mental health conditions. Among smokers, people with mental health conditions are more likely to smoke a greater number of cigarettes.

People with depression have lower levels of the chemical dopamine. Dopamine influences positive feelings in your brain. The nicotine in cigarettes triggers the production of the chemical dopamine, so smoking may be used as a way to relieve symptoms of depression. 

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However, since nicotine only offers temporary relief, you may feel a recurring need to smoke, which may lead to possible addiction.

‌Access to health care. People with mental health conditions are less likely to have access to adequate health care.

It may also be more difficult for people with mental health conditions to take care of their physical health When you have a mental health condition, it can be hard to seek care, take prescriptions regularly, or get enough exercise.

Physical Health Conditions That May Affect Mental Health

Your physical well-being also has an impact on your mental health. People with physical health conditions may also develop mental health conditions. 

Psoriasis is a dermatological condition characterized by painful red sores on the skin. It is associated with acute stress and depression.

Individuals with psoriasis experience emotional and psychological distress that negatively impacts their overall health and quality of life. Stress and depression mainly come from anxiety, stigma, and rejection.

Being diagnosed with cancer or having a heart attack can also lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Around one-third of people with serious medical conditions will have symptoms of depression, such as low mood, sleep problems, and a loss of interest in activities.

How to Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health

If you want to improve your general well-being, you should take care of both your physical and mental health. 

Here are some ways to take care of yourself physically and mentally: 

  • Get regular exercise. Exercise is important for keeping physically fit, but it can also help improve your mood. A daily 10-minute walk may increase your mental alertness leaving you energetic and in a good mood.
  • Eat a proper diet. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed sugars or fats can make you feel better physically and mentally. Consider working with a qualified nutritionist to help you create a diet plan customized according to your needs.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Although drinking and smoking may make you feel better in the short term, they can have a negative effect on both your physical and mental health.
  • Get enough sleep. A good night’s sleep is around seven to nine hours for adults. You can also take a 30-minute nap during the day to feel more alert.
  • Try relaxation techniques. Meditation, deep breathing, and focusing your thoughts can all help when you are feeling stressed. 
  • Develop good mental practices. Try to focus on positive emotions and events rather than negative ones.
  • Seek help from others. Talking with friends or family members can help you feel less stressed. Getting others to help with difficult situations can also reduce the burden you feel. 
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

APA PsycNet: "The relationship between physical and mental health: A mediation analysis."

BMC Public Health: “Smoking and mental illness: results from population surveys in Australia and the United States.”

CDC: “Mental Health and Chronic Diseases.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Chronic Illness and Depression.”

Harvard Health Publishing: "Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.", "Schizophrenia and Heart Disease.", "Sleep and mental health." 

Help Guide: "The Mental Benefits of Exercise."

The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: “Psoriasis and Associated Psychiatric Disorders.”

National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Taking Care of Your Yourself."

National Behavioral Health Network: "Mental Health Impacts of Cancer Diagnosis."

National Institute of Mental Health: “People with depression are at higher risk for other medical conditions.”

National Psoriasis Foundation: "What is Psoriasis."

The New England Journal of Medicine: "Nicotine Addiction."‌

Psychological Bulletin: “The heart's content: the association between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular health.”

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