Physical health is often easy to manage. Most people understand how to take care of their bodies, whether they choose to or not. It’s also often easier to tell when you’re dealing with a physical problem. You might experience pain, or something just feels “off” inside.
Mental health, unfortunately, can be harder for some people to recognize when it comes to basic care and noticing the signs of a problem.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 450 million people around the globe currently deal with some type of mental health condition. While there are many potential causes for different mental health problems, your mind and body are more connected than you may realize.
Mental health is more important than ever, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing fear, uncertainty, and loneliness. So, if you want to take stock of your mental health, take a look at your physical wellbeing, and how they’re connected.
What’s the Connection?
There are many ways in which physical and mental health are connected, but one of the most obvious ways to look at that connection is through longevity. For example, the Mental Health Foundation discovered that those who deal with mental health issues like schizophrenia have three times the risk of dying from a respiratory issue and twice the risk of dying from heart disease.
Depression has also been linked to a shorter lifespan, as it can boost someone’s risk of developing cancer or heart disease.
Physical problems can also be signs of mental health issues that you may not even realize you have. For example, some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include trembling or shaking, muscle tension, and fatigue. If you regularly feel any of those symptoms but you’ve been ignoring them, there could be a more serious underlying issue going on with your mental state.
On the other hand, taking care of your physical health can help to improve your mental health, especially when it comes to exercise. According to Bradley University, the mental health benefits of exercise include:
- Enhancing your mental health
- Boosting your mood
- Reducing anxiety levels
Engaging in healthy, smart physical activities and taking care of your body can help you to feel better about yourself and your life, which can cause an improvement to your overall mental health.
Physical Issues That Can Impact Your Mental Health
While there is no denying the connection between mental and physical health, there are certain physical conditions and complications that can have even more of an impact on your mental state. One of those issues is found in your gut.
Research has shown that issues within your gut biome (including inflammation) can cause mental health symptoms that look like depression and anxiety. In some cases, problems in the gut biome can even create the same symptoms as diseases like Parkinson’s. Unfortunately, the mind-gut connection is a vicious cycle, because those who already deal with mental health issues like anxiety and depression often experience changes in the gut due to stress.
You can manage your gut health by controlling what you eat. Things like processed foods and refined sugars can cause a bacterial imbalance in your gut. Instead, fill your diet with:
- Whole grains
- Lean meats
- Fruits and vegetables
Another area of the body that can have an impact on your mental health is the thyroid. Hypothyroidism has been linked to depression and other mental health issues, and it can cause mood swings and make it difficult to concentrate. If you’re not sure if you have thyroid problems, some of the other symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Feeling cold
While medication is often needed to treat thyroid issues, you can also take care of your mental health at the same time by trying things like meditation and making sure you’re getting enough sleep to feel more relaxed, especially during stressful times.
Finding Help If You Need It
Because mental health issues are so prominent around the world, there is a plethora of information about how to manage your symptoms and look after your mental wellness on your own. Some of those strategies include tips you can use every day, like setting realistic goals for yourself and being more mindful.
But it’s also important to seek out professional help if you need it. Many insurance companies cover the cost of mental health treatments, including Medicare Part B for outpatient care.
Getting treatment for your mental health issues can help you to respond better, physically. You might feel more motivated and productive, get better sleep at night, and have more energy. That can start a positive cycle, in which your physical wellbeing pushes your mental wellbeing to a better place, and you can start to not only recognize your self-worth, but you can make both your physical and mental health lasting priorities in your life.