Despite ample research attempting to uncover the workings and causations that shape our minds, much about this partly tangible, partly abstract concept remains a mystery. Much about the mechanism behind the mind’s functioning is yet to be fully understood, yet certain aspects of its influence over the body have already been discovered. Read on to learn more about how mental health affects physical health.
The inner workings of the mind can influence one’s body through numerous pathways, acting upon it both directly and indirectly. An individual who, for instance, might end their day feeling restless, might find it challenging to unwind and struggle to go to sleep when the time comes. Someone else, who has been feeling morose throughout their day might feel a lack of energy, falling asleep on their couch and finding it difficult to wake up on time the next morning.
Our physical responses (as well as our actions) can reflect our emotional landscape and convey our perspective on life. When it comes to non-clinical mental health issues such as happiness, worry, sadness, or optimism, their attributes may be converted to a physical form of expression, without leaving a long-lasting effect on our life or well-being. In the case of mental health disorders, though, the different struggles that accost our mind can reveal themselves through physical symptoms of a larger and more persistent underlying illness.
Many mental health disorders can manifest through various physical symptoms, both as official symptoms of the relevant mental health condition or as a separate physical ailment:
Depression, or rather major depressive disorder (MDD), is a mood disorder defined through long and unrelenting periods of extreme sadness, hopelessness, and an overarching, negative self-image. In addition to these and other symptoms, depression is often marked by several physical symptoms. These include extremely low energy, trouble sleeping, and drastic weight changes when not dieting.
The effects of depression on the body can go beyond its own physical symptoms, inducing additional, and at times serious ailments. Studies have linked depression to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, arthritis, and osteoporosis. A debate is still taking place over whether depression is related to the appearance of cancer.
Schizophrenia is another mental health disorder that can significantly hinder one’s well-being. A psychotic mental health disorder, schizophrenia is characterized by a marked break from reality, can also include catatonia (a lack of physical movement or communication, at times resembling a vegetative state).
Beyond the above-mentioned symptoms, schizophrenia has been empirically associated with higher risk of heart attacks and with developing respiratory diseases.
A disorder derived from one’s need for survival, anxiety is marked by unpleasant hyperarousal focused on a perceived future threat, despite it not posing an immediate, tangible danger. As opposed to major depressive disorder, anxiety is actually defined as a family of disorders, whose possible physical symptoms include trouble sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, nausea, and vomiting (all of them appearing specifically as symptoms of separation anxiety disorder).
A has also been found to be associated with a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular conditions, stroke, and arthritis.
While not quite a mental health disorder, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) nevertheless includes smoking, or rather nicotine addiction, among its list of substance-related addictive disorders. A highly addictive, nicotine causes dependence on both a neurological (i.e., physical) and emotional level, as a rapid cycle of addiction is created wherein a constantly increasing amount of nicotine is required to achieve the same level of calm. Without it, the smoker will become easily agitated and begin experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, such as increased heart rate, headaches, and cravings.
Due to its incredibly adverse withdrawal process, smoking addiction is very hard to quit, with only 7% of smokers who try managing to achieve cessation. As a result, smoking has become quite prevalent, with the addiction affecting 13.7% of the adult population. Health risks linked to smoking addiction (and the included emotional dependence) are numerous, and include elevated chances of developing cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions, diabetes, and cancer. Some eight million individuals die of smoking-related causes.
It is important to note that just as it can detrimentally affect one’s physical well-being, the mind can improve upon it, promoting greater overall health. Psychological well-being has been found to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and longevity. Among related physical factors, individuals with positive psychological health have been found to have lower blood pressure, improved glucose control, and reduced inflammation.
The beneficial effects of positive mental health on the heart are of particular significance. A major threat to men and women, cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of mortality worldwide, and are the top cause of mortality within the US. The proven link between good mental health and maintaining a healthy heart is therefore considered a monumental discovery, with health services across the globe aiming to provide quality mental health support, which also go toward fortifying one’s body.
In addition to the above interactions between the mental and physical, another type of connection exists between them: that of behavior. One’s mental experiences can often present themselves first through actions, which can in turn affect one’s mental health. Contending with depression, for example, can lead to neglect of one’s hygiene, an unhealthy diet, and refraining from exercise, in addition to picking up unhealthy habits such as alcohol and drug use. Such actions can eventually lead to physical health issues, such as infection, obesity, or nicotine addiction, making behavior an important part of intervention measures, both for mental and physical health issues.