The Mind/Body Connection: How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health?

With a steadily increasing interest in holistic health, more and more people are recognising that despite all of its separate systems, the body is essentially a singular organism. Any negative effects on one of them can potentially affect the entire organism. There has been a bit of a meme lately that when a person with mental health issues confides in someone, they are met with a well-meaning barrage of “you need to drink water” or “cut out bread from your diet.” While well-meaning, any Master of Mental Health graduate can tell you that while such steps may address a very minor component of mental illness, dehydration and bread are not the cause of mental illness; however, research does show us that caring for our physical body has significant consequences for our minds.

The Mind/Body Connection: How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health? Image Source

The Relationship Between Brain and Body

If you live with mental illness, chances are that at some point someone has given you a piece of advice that just didn’t feel helpful. Oftentimes these well-meant tidbits are something along the lines of physical care. Sometimes to do with diet and exercise. It can feel stressful or dismissive to receive these comments, as though your mental illness is your fault. It makes it sound like your mental illness isn’t an illness, but a byproduct of your lifestyle choices.

While there is a certain toxicity inherent in suggesting these as a fix to mental illness, there is a touch of truth to it.

As our brain affects our entire body, when we care for our body it also cares for our mind. Physicality is shown to have a wide number of effects on a variety of mental illnesses, and how we treat our bodies and engage with our physical selves can do wonders for alleviating the impact of certain symptoms of mental illness.

This knowledge encourages the holistic view of health, every part of the body is a small part of a single cohesive system. When one part is being cared for, that care positively affects the other systems around it.

The Relationship Between Brain and Body

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What Can We Do?

There are two important things to remember. The first is that mental illness has no cure, but it can be treated to the point where its impact on one’s life is dramatically minimised. Caring for yourself physically will not cure a mental illness, but it will drastically mitigate its effects on your life. The second thing to remember is that these methods of physical wellness rely on consistency. Mental illness thrives in a chaotic environment, and establishing a wellness routine can be essential to managing its symptoms.

Which leads us into, what exactly can be done to care for our bodies so that our minds can be positively affected.

One of the simplest things to do is to stick to an ongoing sleep routine. The role that consistent sleep plays in our mood is well-known. Sleep helps regulate the mood and mental faculties, as well as rest the effect of any extraneous stress on the body. Although mental illness has a huge effect on a person’s sleep schedule, it is one of the easiest things to start with, as sleep is something you have to do anyway, it’s just a matter of adjusting when and facilitating quality sleep.

Another suggestion is to exercise regularly. It doesn’t have to be extraneous exercise and doesn’t even have to puff you out, it just has to be a certain amount of intentional, physical movement for a certain period consistently. Physical exercise is a well-known elevator of mood, owing to the reward and pleasure chemicals that physical exertion releases. These neurochemicals are also effective painkillers, and stress relievers, and are proven to increase overall energy levels in the long run.

The gut is also known to have a great effect on mental health, in some cases, it is even referred to as the “second brain.” When we take care of our diet, our gut functions better and with greater efficiency, and any excess stress on the body as a result of waste management is lessened. Maintaining the gut is a key component of managing mental health, but unfortunately, this often gets chalked up to fad diets and toxic diet cultures.

There are many ways we can care for our physicalities in a way that will positively impact our mental health, but illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar, PTSD, and others can all negatively impact our ability to facilitate our physical self-care. Therefore it is important to start small. Make a single, small lifestyle change and practise it consistently. Make it something easy, then once you have that habit built, add another habit, then practise them both together, and then keep going. It’s important to take lifestyle changes slowly, to introduce them at a pace that is effective for you, and to be gentle with yourself if you drop the ball. You can’t shame yourself into wellness. Be intentional, be consistent, and be kind to yourself.

Mental illness Thrives in a Chaotic Environment

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 8, 2024

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