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How Mental Health can Shape Your Physical Being

In recent decades people have increasingly started to recognize the importance of mental health. Since 1949, the month of May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness month, seeking to destigmatize mental illness. In that spirit, we are going to explore the topic of the broader connection shared by mental and physical health. Let’s take a look at the various ways mental health can impact physical well-being, both negatively and positively.

The Difference Between Clinically Diagnosed Mental Health Disorders and Every-day Emotional Distress

Clinically diagnosed mental disorders and everyday experiences of emotional distress can differ in their severity, duration, and impact on daily functioning. Clinically diagnosed disorders, such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, typically involve persistent symptoms that significantly impair one’s ability to function in various areas of life, including work, relationships, and self-care. These disorders often require professional intervention, such as therapy or medication, for effective management.

Picture of a man speaking with a mental health professional. A practice that can be extremely beneficial whether you have a clinical diagnosis or not.

On the other hand, everyday experiences of feelings like depression and anxiety may be transient and less severe, occurring in response to life stressors or situational challenges. While these feelings cause distress and interfere with daily life, they may not meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis. Regardless, your mental state impacts how you care for yourself physically, and it’s important to be cognizant of that. The most essential thing is to recognize the spectrum of mental health experiences and seek appropriate support when needed. If you’re experiencing frequent feelings of anxiety and depression, unrelated to life’s stresses, consider seeking professional help.

The Physical Effects of Negative Mental Health

  • Brain Chemistry & Neurobiology- Our mental health can have a profound impact on our brain chemistry and neurobiology, both playing a part in how we care for ourselves physically. Conditions like depression alter neurotransmitter levels and brain structure. These changes often lead to symptoms such as fatigue, cognitive impairment, and disrupted sleep patterns. Sleep disturbances are a common manifestation of mental health issues, with anxiety and depression frequently disrupting sleep patterns. The regular disruption of sleep patterns will almost always lead to a crushing lack of motivation to do the things necessary to care for our physical bodies.
  • Physical Manifestations- Changes in appetite and weight are prevalent among those facing mental health challenges. Depression and eating disorders can significantly affect appetite regulation. This can result in weight loss or gain, nutritional deficiencies, and related health complications. All of which are equally detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing. Chronic pain and physical symptoms also accompany mental health conditions. Headaches, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal distress are frequently exacerbated by poor mental health. I don’t know about you, but when I’m experiencing any of these physical ailments, exercising or eating a proper diet are typically the last things on my mind.
  • Immunity Issues- Mental health struggles can also compromise the immune system. Chronic stress and mental disorders can weaken immune function. This increases susceptibility to infections, autoimmune conditions, and delays wound healing. These negative effects highlight the urgent need for comprehensive mental health care. For more information on the effects stress can have on the body and tips for dealing with those, check out one of our previous blogs: 5 Stress Mangement Tips to Implement This Year.

Positive Mental Health and Its Effect on the Physical Body

Mind-body interventions offer promising avenues for improving physical health. While there are more studies tying physical effects to negative mental health, there have been a few linking a positive mindset to healthier behaviors and improved physical wellness. Most people have probably heard how positive mental health leads to a reduced risk for cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke. While true, that’s typically through the lens of reducing stress levels. So, what other ways are there to maintain a positive mental attitude and reap the health benefits? Fortunately, there are a number of techniques we can use to manage the ebb and flow of our mental health:

Techniques for Maintaining a Positive Mindset

Image of a man out in nature meditating, a technique that can be effective for managing one's Mental Health.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation- Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings without judgment. It allows them to observe negative emotions as they arise and let them pass without getting caught up in them.
  • Deep Breathing Exercises- Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, or the 4-7-8 technique, can help calm the nervous system and reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Physical Activity- Engaging in regular physical activity, whether it’s walking, practicing yoga, or playing a sport, can boost mood and reduce feelings of negativity.
  • Gratitude Practice- Taking time each day to reflect on things you are grateful for can shift focus away from negativity.
  • Journaling- Writing down thoughts and feelings can help you gain clarity and perspective on your emotions. It can also serve as a release for pent-up emotions.
  • Seeking Support- Seeking support from a trusted friend, family member, or therapist about your feelings can provide validation, support, and new perspectives.
  • Setting Boundaries- Learning to say no to things that drain your energy or cause negative emotions can help you protect your mental and emotional well-being.
  • Engaging in Hobbies- Spending time doing activities you enjoy can help distract from negative emotions and promote feelings of fulfillment and joy.
  • Practicing Self-Compassion- Being kind and understanding towards yourself during difficult times can help you cultivate resilience and maintain a positive outlook.
  • Limiting Media Consumption- Limiting exposure to negative news or social media can prevent overwhelming feelings and anxiety.
  • Visualization- Visualizing a positive outcome or envisioning yourself overcoming challenges can help you stay motivated and optimistic.
  • Seeking Professional Help- If negative emotions persist or significantly impact daily life, seeking support from a mental health professional can provide tailored strategies and interventions.

Additional Techniques Beneficial to Mental Health

Developing effective coping mechanisms and resilience mitigates the physical effects of stress and other negative emotions. Additionally, they allow us to achieve a mental state conducive to self-motivation. The added benefit of practicing healthy behaviors regularly is that they can become routine. Humans are creatures of habit and the more we adapt healthy routines the better off our physical bodies will be.

Social support also plays a crucial role in maintaining physical health. Supportive relationships can foster accountability, motivation and act as a safety net. It’s important to have a core group you can rely on to share and look out for your best interests. In the event that you fall on hard times emotionally, those burdens can be lessened by a close-knit group. Ultimately, your physical health is up to you, but there are a number of things you can do to increase your overall quality of life. Seeking professional help and adhering to treatment plans can significantly improve physical health outcomes.

Keep in Mind

The interconnected nature of mental and physical health cannot be overstated. Whether you’re struggling with every-day emotions, or have a clinical diagnosis, properly addressing mental health is vital for overall well-being. By prioritizing self-care and seeking support when needed, you can adopt a pro-active approach to health maintenance. Far too often people decline to seek help for their mental struggles, and the effects can be devastating. Invest in yourself and your future, both mentally and physically, and you may be surprised where life takes you.

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