We often think of the brain and body as two separate entities, but your physical and mental health (or ill health) are closely linked. Your mental health affects your physical health, and vice versa.
Physical ill health significantly increases the risk of developing mental health problems, and vice versa.
Almost one in three people with long-term physical health problems also suffer from mental health problems. Depression or anxiety in particular are prominent challenges.
How are your physical and mental health related?
Studies show that people with mental health challenges have a greater risk of developing physical health problems that can be prevented in the first place, such as heart problems.
There can be many reasons for this, for example:
- Genetics - The genes that increase the risk of developing mental illness may also play a role when it comes to physical health problems.
- Low motivation - some mental health problems or medications for these can affect energy levels and the motivation to take care of themselves.
- Difficult to focus and plan - it can be difficult to make an appointment or see a doctor if the mental illness affects the ability to concentrate.
- Lack of support to change unhealthy habits - If healthcare professionals assume that you will not be able to make changes, they may not offer support and guidance to change habits. This could be, for example, quitting smoking or drinking less alcohol.
- Lack of health care - Healthcare professionals may assume that your physical symptoms are part of your mental illness and not examine them further. People with a mental illness are less likely to have routine checks (such as blood pressure, weight and cholesterol) performed, which can lead to earlier detection of physical health conditions.
- In addition to this, mental health problems can also cause physical symptoms. Body and head are not separate, so it is not surprising that mental illness can affect your body. Depression can, for example, cause headaches, fatigue and digestive problems, and anxiety can, for example, create an upset stomach. Other symptoms may include insomnia, restlessness and difficulty concentrating.
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This is how mental illness can affect physical health
Mental illness can affect us physically in many ways. These are some of the areas that may be affected:
It is normal to both have butterflies in your stomach and to feel nauseous when you are nervous, for example in advance of a big event.
These feelings are just one example of how your state of mind can affect your gut.
In fact, chronic depression, stress and / or anxiety can actually alter the physiology of the digestive tract, affect the way it works, and in some cases aggravate pain and discomfort.
Sleep and energy
Chronic stress can give you both the feeling of fatigue and lack of energy. In addition, it can affect your sleep, and especially the quality of sleep.
In case of lack of sleep, symptoms related to stress, anxiety and depression can be aggravated, and in turn make it even more difficult to fall asleep and sleep through the night.
Eventually, this can contribute to the development of sleep disorders, including insomnia or sleep apnea (temporary cessation of breathing while sleeping).
Not taking care of your mental health can in some cases be linked to a number of chronic diseases. These include, but are not limited to, diabetes, asthma and arthritis.
Depression and anxiety can, for example, lead to people not being able or willing to cook healthy food or exercise regularly. This is perhaps the one of the connections between our physical and mental health that is most easily recognizable.
According to the WHO, people with serious mental health problems do not receive as good physical health care as the rest of the population. The physical ailments are often considered to be symptoms of the mental health diagnosis, while some diseases may remain undetected.
When it comes to heart health, there are a number of factors that can increase the risk of disease, including high blood pressure, increased and persistent heart rate, as well as calcium buildup. All of these risk factors can affect your mental health.
For example, if you are stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, a lot of stress, or other ailments such as chronic depression, anxiety or PTSD can increase the risk of developing heart disease.
At the same time, things may indicate that good mental health can have positive effects on your heart health. A meta-analysis of 200 articles conducted at Harvard University in 2012 shows this.
"We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction and happiness are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of factors such as a person's age, socioeconomic status, smoking status or body weight," said the study's lead author, Julia Boehm.
Poor mental health can also lead to addiction problems for many people. This may include alcohol and drug abuse as well as smoking and other forms of addiction.
Addiction can often lead to long-term illness or accidental death. If you are concerned about your own or others' drinking or drug use, information and support services are available. You will find a list of treatment services on the websites of health Norway.
Lower life expectancy
Because mental illness has such a far-reaching impact on the whole body, studies have shown that serious and chronic mental health problems can actually reduce the life expectancy of the individual concerned.
This is due to the fact that mental illness can affect everything from immune health to resilience through chronic health conditions and more.
Physical health conditions that can affect your mental health
Your physical health also has an impact on your mental health. People with physical health problems can also develop mental disorders, especially if the health problems persist over time.
An example is the skin disease psoriasis: This is a dermatological condition characterized by painful red sores on the skin. The disease is associated with acute stress and depression.
People with psoriasis may experience emotional and psychological distress that negatively affects their overall health and quality of life. Stress and depression come mainly from anxiety, stigma and rejection.
Being diagnosed with cancer or having a heart attack can also lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. About one-third of people with serious medical conditions will have symptoms of depression, such as a bad mood, sleep problems and loss of interest in activities.
What can you do?
It is important to emphasize that having an occasional bad day, or a stressful week, will not have a major impact on your physical health. However, it is an important reminder not to ignore or downplay mental health problems or chronic stress and anxiety.
In the same way that you listen to your body or go to the doctor if you have a physical health problem, it is also important to be aware of and deal with your mental health needs.
At the same time, having mental illness does not mean that you can not prevent various physical health problems. There are several things you can do yourself to increase your chances of staying physically healthy.
Physical activity is a good way to stay physically healthy, while also having a positive impact on your mental health. Studies show that being physically active causes the brain to release endorphins, a biochemical neurotransmitter. Endorphins have a natural pain-relieving effect, but also give a feeling of well-being.
As little as 10 minutes of brisk walking can improve your energy and mood, as well as your alertness.
Regardless of whether you are grooming in the garden or running a marathon, physical activity can significantly improve your quality of life. The important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy and that makes you feel less stressed, more focused and gives you a sense of purpose.
Eating healthy can improve your mood and how you feel. A balanced diet contains healthy amounts of protein, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.
The food we eat can affect the development, management and prevention of a number of mental health conditions, including depression and dementia.
Smoking has a negative impact on both mental and physical health. The irony is that many with mental illness believe that smoking alleviates their symptoms. This effect is short-lived and will therefore not help you get better. Fortunately, it's never too late to quit, and there are plenty of resources available to help you quell the smoke.
Get enough sleep
A good night's sleep is around 7-9 hours for adults. To feel more awake and focused, you can also try taking a nap during the day. Then it is important that you do not sleep too long, 20-30 minutes is long enough. If you sleep more than that, you may feel lethargic and disoriented when you wake up.
Try relaxation techniques
If you often feel stressed, it will be beneficial to try different relaxation techniques. This can be, for example, meditation, taking deep breaths in and out, or focusing on your thoughts. Use the method you think works best for you.
Focus on the positive
Although it can be difficult if you are struggling with inner turmoil, worries or stress, it is important to focus on positive thoughts and feelings, rather than on the negative.
Be sure to get help
Getting help can make it easier for you to deal with your mental challenges. For example, you can talk to friends or family and in this way get rid of some of the stress. Getting help in difficult situations can reduce the burden you carry.
In other cases, professional help will be required, then we recommend that you:
Book an appointment with the doctor
If you are concerned about your physical health, you should set up an appointment with your doctor. If there is a long waiting time and you need more emergency help, you should contact the emergency room or psychiatric emergency room.
If you find it difficult to talk to healthcare professionals or are afraid that they will not listen, you can bring someone you trust to help you assert yourself.
This can be a friend, relative or professional spokesperson as long as there is someone you trust and who wants your best.
Advice and guidance from a general practitioner
You can easily order a digital consultation
GPs can help you with everything from simple ailments to diseases that require short- or long-term treatment.
Book an appointment with a psychologist
If you think your mental health is affecting or may be affecting your physical health in the future, you may need to talk to professional professionals who can help you with your mental challenges.
Take care of your mental health
Our psychologists are here for you!
When it becomes challenging to deal with difficult thoughts and feelings on your own, it can be helpful to talk to a psychologist for advice and guidance.
This is how you can get advice and guidance on measures you should implement to improve your mental health.
Since physical and mental health are as closely linked as they are, in some cases it may be necessary to take measures for both.