Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/11/2022
If your mental health has or is suffering, chances are you’ve felt it throughout your whole body. The tiredness, the lack of motivation, maybe even some stomach troubles — it all seems like it might be connected.
For many people experiencing mental illness, it’s a constant battle to determine what’s a sign of illness and what is a sign of mental illness. And for people who see symptoms creeping into their lives, it’s fair to wonder: how does mental health affect physical health?
Your mental health and physical health are interwoven in many ways, and there’s rarely a case in which mental illness doesn’t have the ability to affect your physical health, and vice versa. The question for most people, however, is to what degree these things are in direct relation.
If you’re seeing digestive issues, headaches, fatigue, insomnia or other signs of slipping physical health, you’re probably wondering if your mental health could be a cause.
The answer is a rather confident “it’s possible,” but going further than that requires some background information. To understand how and why, we need to start with some biology.
Your mental and physical health are tightly knit because they’re arguably one in the same. After all, where does your brain reside? In your body. What does your brain control? Your body. The two have a tight link and can’t survive without one another.
On the ground level, though, the relationship between mind and body can seem very nonspecific. We don’t develop a cold because of a breakup, and we don’t lose limbs because of grief.
Mental illness can affect many parts of your daily life, and that includes the physical parts. Need proof? Look no further than the link between depression and the health of your immune system.
Your immune health is what protects your body from disease and repairs damage. Chronic mental illness can reduce your immune system’s ability to function over time.
Research also suggests that depression can change the function of your endocrine system through what is referred to as the mind-body connection.
The link between the two is so compelling that current research suggests antidepressants with antiinflammatory benefits may one day provide a more effective means of antidepressant therapy — treating depressive disorders like a joined mind and body problem.
Your mental health can absolutely affect your physical health, especially when your mental health veers into the realm of mood disorder.
Take a look at the symptoms of depression, for instance. Depression can cause low, down feelings and a lack of motivation, but it can also cause aches, pains, digestive issues, fatigue, insomnia, weight changes and a loss of appetite.
And this isn’t limited to depression by any means.
Anxiety disorders can affect your heart rate, cause shortness of breath, nausea, upset stomach, tingling, shaking, hyperventilation, dizziness and other physical symptoms.
Over time, these symptoms of anxiety, like the symptoms of depression, can cause chronic damage, as well as increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attack.
In other words, the physical health ramifications of poor mental health are very real..Your mental health can prevent you from being physically active in some cases. More and more research suggests an inherent link between your mental health, and your physical health and the exercise you do to maintain it.
We know that your mind and body are separate entities, but they do have an innate connection. Your physical health can have major impacts on your mental health.
This is perhaps most obvious when examining the impact of exercise — generally, exercise is associated with better health, improved confidence and improved cognitive function. Even the endorphin-centered idea of exercise making you feel good is accurate.
Furthermore, mental health conditions can become more frequent in the same people who acquire chronic diseases like diabetes. Things that are generally considered harmful to your physical health — smoking, excessive drinking, unhealthy diet, etc. — are tied to an increased risk for mental illness over time.
There are exceptions to these rules, of course, because when people do things to excess or put themselves in unsafe situations, it can increase their risk of adverse effects. But generally speaking, moderate exercise is good for your brain health.
Treatment for these disorders is a crucial element of the solution — you don’t just get better without making changes.
Those changes might include antidepressants or other medications for your psychological health, but more often than not, a holistic approach is necessary to help someone deal with mental and physical problems.
The National Institute of Mental Health points to physical health conditions as potential risk factors for mental health conditions, but they also point out that physical activity can promote better mental well-being.
Regular exercise can prevent cardiovascular disease, but it may also help stave off mental health bumps and even act as a treatment for depression.
Treating depression and seeking the support of a mental health professional are important actions to take for your well-being, but some people see physical illness as separate from mental disorders — and think they should be treated one at a time. In most cases, that’s just choosing to leave one problem unaddressed, which can cause more problems.
Mental disorders can be brought on by chronic illness, and physical illnesses can have a direct impact on your emotional health. In these cases, it’s important to stop what could become a dangerous spiral.
What we’re getting at here is that if you’re struggling emotionally and physically, you need to get support for both sides of the coin. Routine checks on your mental health are necessary when you’re feeling distress, and therapy can be an effective way to both control and prevent bouts of depression.
Above all, doing something rather than nothing is one of the big keys to your success.
Whether it’s your mental health or your physical health that has started a spiral, the reality is that both your physical health and mental health are important to your quality of life. If your well-being, your happiness, and your ability to function are being affected, it’s time to get things under control.
Talking to a healthcare professional about health issues can help you better deal with the anxiety and worry that can come from symptoms that cause uncertainty — a healthcare provider can also help you treat these symptoms and any underlying conditions.
As for your mental health, we’ve already laid out what there is to be done.
If you’re ready to get to work on your health, we can help. Consider our online resources for mental health, for online therapy, and for primary care concerns that you haven’t brought to an expert’s attention just yet.
Want to learn more about your mental health in the meantime? Check out our resources to learn more about mental illness, depression and anxiety.