The Connection Between Mental and Physical Health and Their Impact on Each Other
By Dr. Mehrtash Amini
If you made a list of your priorities in life, what things would crack the top ten?
Everyone’s list would look different, but most people would put improving their health near the top. This often means eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and staying hydrated. While these are all vital parts of the equation, there’s an important step missing: caring for your mental health.
Did you know that your mental and physical health are closely intertwined? If either your mind or body is off-balance, the other will suffer as well. Likewise, promoting one facet of your health can also give the other a boost.
To learn more about how your physical and mental health interact and depend on each other, read on.
What Does "Healthy" Look Like?
Before we dive into how mental health affects physical health and vice versa, let’s take a moment to examine what we mean by the term “health”.
The exact definition of “healthy” is subjective. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to physical and mental well-being.
It’s important to note, though, that defining “health” by only the absence of physical pain and illness is incomplete. You must also make room for the presence of wellness.
What does that look like? According to the WHO, whole-body wellness involves both physical and mental health. Their definition includes these criteria:
- realization of your abilities
- ability to cope with daily stressors
- ability to be productive and fruitful and work
- ability to contribute to the surrounding community
- complete physical, mental, and social well-being
If that definition shocks you, you aren’t alone.
Most people look at health as a series of numbers—weight, BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure, calories in vs. out, and nutrient levels. Even so, these values are only small pieces of the puzzle that is total health and wellness. In reality, your health is your ability to live a fulfilling life where your mind and body don’t hold you back.
The Relationship Between Psychological and Physical Health
Your mental and physical health have a cyclical relationship, and the link begins with basic chemistry.
External circumstances do affect your moods. The “feelings” associated with your emotions, though, come from hormones and neurotransmitters.
These chemicals tell your brain to feel happy or sad, activate your fight or flight response, and control your internal reward systems. As such, physical imbalances in your brain’s chemistry—like a lack of dopamine or serotonin—can lead to mental illness.
Your mental health can also affect your body for better or worse.
One study from Oxford University noted that serious mental illnesses can reduce your lifespan by as much as 10-20 years. The reasons behind this value are complex, but they have a lot to do with the links between mental illness and physical illness. Here are a few of the most common connections:
- Chronic anxiety/anger disorders and heart disease
- Depression and chronic fatigue
- Depression and a weakened immune system
- Substance abuse disorders and overdose
- Schizophrenia and respiratory diseases
Thankfully, many of the techniques people use to improve their physical health have mental benefits. Regular exercise, eating nutritious foods, and sticking to a good sleep schedule can help to keep your brain’s chemistry in balance. Activities that take care of your mind, like meditation and social interaction, can lower your body’s stress hormones as well.
The Problem of Chronic Pain
Acute illnesses and injuries can and do damage your mental health. Even so, there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel—you can look forward to getting better and going back to your normal life. Someone who has a chronic pain condition or permanent disability must live with the reality that things aren’t likely to get much better.
As the severity of chronic pain increases, mental health and mood drop dramatically. Being in pain makes you miserable, so this association makes perfect sense.
According to a recent report from Statistics Canada, though, the pain or medical condition itself is only part of the equation. The larger impact on mental health comes from the limitations that pain places on daily activities. Chronic conditions can make it hard for people to work, have fun with friends and family, or even accomplish basic personal care tasks.
Because of this, pain management is a crucial part of flourishing mental health. Not only does it help people with chronic conditions to feel more comfortable, but it also helps them regain independence and go back to the activities that are important to them.
Holistic Pain Management
Anyone who has dealt with chronic pain knows that medication isn’t always the best approach to pain management. Not only do medications fail to address the root of the problem, but they can damage your mental health by creating issues with dependency. The side effects of pain medications can also cause low or irregular moods and suicidal ideations.
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in developing ways to manage pain without narcotic drugs.
For people struggling with fibromyalgia, tension headaches, and non-specific myofascial pain, trigger point therapy may be an option. Trigger points are hard, painful “knots” in muscle tissue that pop up when your muscles are under constant stress. A trigger point injection can release the knot, providing widespread relief.
People dealing with chronic or acute pain of any type can also benefit from K-Laser Therapy.
This breakthrough treatment stimulates your body’s natural repair processes. The safe laser penetrates deep into muscle tissue, increases circulation, and reduces inflammation. Anyone struggling with pain can take advantage of this risk-free procedure, even if they have underlying conditions.
Your Mental and Physical Health Matter
Both your mental and physical health affect your ability to live life to the fullest. If chronic pain or health conditions are holding you back, it’s time to see a medical professional about your options for treatment.
If you’re looking for a physician in the North Vancouver area, look into visiting BeWell Medical Clinic. Our state-of-the-art facility offers several pain management options, a walk-in clinic, and family medicine. Contact us online or by phone at 604-770-0164 to ask about setting up your first appointment.