ad collaborative post // The mind and body are one. You can’t walk around with your brain outside your head, but the relationship goes beyond mere physiological reality. Your thoughts may be ephemeral, but they can influence your health over time.
The converse is also true — ongoing physical problems can cause your mental state to deteriorate. That’s why it pays to care for your mind and body through nurturing, holistic means. Here’s how good mental health contributes to good physical health and why you should foster both.
Poor Mental Health Leads to Deteriorating Physical Outcomes
Poor mental health contributes to deteriorating physical health, often through neglect. For example, one of the principal symptoms of depression is a loss of interest in everyday activities. These include your grooming routine, feeding yourself, and getting adequate rest and exercise.
For example, people with depression may lack the energy to brush their teeth, resulting in dental caries. Flossing requires even more effort — and skipping it can lead to gum disease. Periodontal woes alone can lead to tooth loss, but that’s not the only risk you encounter.
Scientists have linked oral bacteria to increased cardiovascular disease risks. They’ve also discovered several species of germs promoting amyloid plaque formation in Alzheimer’s patients. Ongoing research seeks to answer whether routine deep dental cleanings could prevent this devastating age-related condition that can rob us of the joy of our golden years.
Anxiety can lead to other health problems, too. It promotes tooth-grinding, which can lead to chronic headaches and tooth loss. The high cost of dental care in the United States creates additional stress for folks with this problem that often occurs in sleep, beyond their control.
More frighteningly, research from Australia suggests that chronic stress can rewire your brain to keep your blood pressure high. Heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women worldwide, and hypertension multiplies your danger.
Poor mental health can also contribute to unhealthy diet and exercise patterns. Eating disorders are one example and can be fatal. However, other conditions, like untreated schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, can result in binge-eating behavior or completely forgetting food. It can also cause drastic shifts in activity levels. For example, during a manic episode, an individual may workout to excess — but barely lift themselves out of bed when depression strikes.
Frequent weight fluctuations caused by diet and exercise changes also increase cardiovascular death risks. For each 1.5-to-2-pound weight change, your risk of a coronary event increases by 4%.
Poor Physical Health Can Also Devastate Your Mental Well-Being
Researchers devote considerable time to how mental health impacts physical health but shockingly little to how the converse applies. Interoception refers to your ability to recognize your physical sensations and their impact on your emotional state.
You can see this principle at work in how counselors train patients in emotional regulation using the HALT technique. “HALT” stands for “hungry, angry, lonely, or tired,” and savvy folks should refrain from acting when one of these conditions occurs. That’s because physical sensations — like fatigue — impact how you think and behave. All you have to do is think of the Snickers commercial tagline: you’re not you when you’re hungry.
Patients with chronic pain often struggle with comorbid anxiety and depression. For years, doctors have prescribed antidepressants and behavioral interventions for physical issues. This approach poses problems for patients whose mental state arises not from something wrong with their mind but the burden of living with untreated pain, day after exhausting day.
Bias in the medical profession is very real, particularly toward women and the LGBTQ+ community. Physicians should recommend behavioral interventions on the principle that the mind and body work as one.
They should not, however, jump to the blanket assumption that changing a patient’s attitude will automatically correct any physical ailments. They still swore an oath to do no harm, and ignoring someone’s very real physical pain because of stereotypes causes unimaginable mental distress in patients. Few things are more invalidating than knowing something’s wrong and having your doctor insist it’s all in your head. A misdiagnosis can lead to unnecessary death.
The lack of a public health care coverage system in the United States also contributes to poor mental outcomes. Stagnant wages and lack of employer coverage coupled with soaring housing and medical costs make it impossible for many to afford a roof over their head and treatment. One 2009 Harvard study found that 45,000 Americans die each year due to a lack of necessary care. You can only imagine how that number soared during the recent pandemic.
How Good Mental Health Contributes to Good Physical Health
The mind and body share an intricate, complex relationship. The state of one impacts the other in complex ways, from making people neglect their basic needs to living with physiological ailments they can’t afford to treat. Knowing how good mental health contributes to physical well-being can help you choose wholesome behaviors that nurture both.