Mental and Physical Health Are Connected

Although it can feel obvious at times, many people don’t know or simply don’t notice the relationship between physical and mental health.  Often people will let one or the other suffer because of the busy world we live in, but by doing so they are enabling a downward spiral of physical and mental illness to progress.

Poor Mental Health Leading to Poor Physical Health

A well known symptom of depression is a lack of motivation in even the simplest of daily activities.  Often self grooming such as bathing decreases, and diet becomes more and more unhealthy. In addition, people may have an increase or decrease in appetite, as well as in the quantity or quality of sleep.  Physical activity often decreases as a result of depression as well.

In addition to the above symptoms, anxiety can lead to an activation of a person’s fight or flight response, which in turn leads to physiological activations of things such as an increase in heart rate.

The above symptoms are unpleasant in themselves, but can also lead to other physical health related issues if experienced for an extended period of time.  Poor diet can lead obesity. Low activity, high blood pressure, and increased heart rate can lead to cardiovascular disease. Too much or not enough sleep can cause all sorts of health issues, including injury resulting in driving while exhausted.

Poor Physical Health Leading to Poor Mental Health

Having an injury, cancer, or other physically limiting condition can not only make someone feel depressed or anxious directly from their diagnosis, but can also cause mental health issues due to their limiting daily activities.  Maybe the condition keeps a person from going to a family picnic because they would not have been able to travel. Or maybe it would keep them from attending a friends wedding because they were feeling sick from a recent treatment.

Having poor physical health not only can lead to depression and anxiety directly, but also indirectly, such as through social isolation.  Unfortunately experiencing a mental health issue due to physical health only keeps the cycle going, with the depression leading to further social withdraw or less of a drive to feel better.

There Are Things We Can Do

Whether we have a physical health or a mental health condition, we do not have to feel trapped.  Part of the focus of my therapy long term has been to go through the motions. If I’m depressed I should do what I would do if I weren’t.  Go to the gym, even if I just walk on the treadmill and want more than anything to not be at the gym.  Cook dinner rather than ordering out.  These things keep me working at physical health, and also help with mental health.  Exercise is known to be good for mental wellbeing, and routine is good for managing mental health.

Depending on the way in which someone’s physical health is harming their quality of life, different actions can be taken.  Overall it is important to talk to a doctor about what can be done to keep as normal a life as possible with the illness or injury.  For a new chronic illness or debilitating injury, as well older conditions that have not been dealt with on an emotional level), talk therapy can be helpful.  There are counselors out there that specialize in helping people cope with their injury/illness. Psychology Today Counselor Search is a great place to start looking for help.

*The statements and opinions are based on anecdotal and common knowledge.

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