Understanding the Link Between Physical and Mental Health

People have a tendency to see physical and mental health as separate. However, our physical and mental health are much more connected than we realize.

When we consider our health, we focus on two distinct categories: physical health and mental health.

Physical health refers to the body, encompassing our weight, stamina, fitness, the strength of our heart and lungs, and so on. Mental health refers to the mind and includes our emotional wellness, sleep habits, ability to deal with stress, and overall happiness. Together, your mental and physical health make up your total wellness and guide opportunities to improve your health by developing a healthy lifestyle.

Although we tend to consider our physical and mental health separately, there’s a closer connection between mental and physical health than many people realize. Changes in physical health can trigger the development of an emotional disorder while an emotional struggle can affect the physical body.

However, the links between physical and mental health go even further. 

Mental Health is Your Emotional Well-Being 

The CDC defines mental health as “emotional, psychological, and social well-being…it determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.” 

These “healthy choices” refer to any decisions made that promote both your emotional and physical well-being. For example, the willpower to adhere to a healthy diet and exercise regimen without overcorrecting or undermining your progress comes from a place of mental healthiness, even though the changes are to your physical body. 

Even if you feel healthy overall, there’s much to gain from support and care for your mental health. Some people consider themselves mentally healthy if they have an “absence of disorders,” but even things like seeing a therapist for help with stress management can have a profound effect on both your mental and physical health.

Thought patterns change over time, making them hard to notice.

With mental health diagnoses, many can recur or last a lifetime. For this reason, it’s helpful to think of mental wellness as a spectrum rather than a yes-or-no toggle.

On one end, there are those whose disorders are severe and cause difficulties with functioning in their day-to-day lives. But then others have the coping skills necessary to mitigate the symptoms they would otherwise exhibit to live a functional, healthy life.

Since thought patterns change over a long period of time, they can be hard to notice. Their effects, however, are easier to observe. Some signs of a change in mental health include

  • Changes in sleeping patterns 
  • Changing eating habits 
  • Social withdrawal from friends and family 
  • Lack of energy 
  • Growing irritability and mood swings 

It’s easy to see how these factors in mental health connect to and alter physical well-being: for example, rapid weight loss/gain are physical factors. But changes in mental health tend to cause them. 

Changes in mental health can also have indirect effects. Irritability can lead to conflict or risk-taking behaviors which in turn lead to physical harm. 

But to better relate these challenges to physical health, we must first define physical health. 

Physical Health is Your Bodily Wellness 

At first, physical health seems self-apparent and is immediately obvious. We can learn a lot about a person’s physical health at a glance, while emotional health takes more time and effort to investigate. 

Physical health has two parts key components, which stem from overall lifestyle.  

Nutrition 

We need the right balance of different macronutrients and vitamins for our gender, and other physical needs to remain physically healthy. 

Activity

Regular exercise, regardless of age, has many health benefits. Surely, nobody would argue with us simply concluding that physical activity is critically important at any age.

Physical Health Maintenance 

These lifestyle choices help lead to a physically healthy lifestyle when combined with regular checkups with medical professionals (general practitioners, dentists, and eye doctors). 

But committing to these choices is difficult when mental illness enters the equation. Depression makes it more difficult to find the motivation to cook healthy meals and exercise as often as needed. 

Even more worrisome, depression and other disorders increase the risk of death from chronic health conditions. People with depression are more likely to succumb to despair or decline to seek adequate treatment. 

How Mind and Body Interact 

Some interactions between physical and mental health, instead of just worsening or influencing each other, have a direct link with observable effects in both the brain and the body. 

Anger, Anxiety, and Heart Attack

It’s an old plot device in books and movies: a character becomes so angry, or so terrified, that they suffer a heart attack. Their horrified companions drop the emotional argument and rush to help as best they can. 

Research shows this narrative device is real. Rage and fear increase the heart rate. Felt often enough, and they strain the heart. Older and overweight populations at risk for heart attack who also feel these stronger emotions (or suffer from emotions that induce them) must monitor their mental health to protect their physical well-being. 

The Vicious Cycle Disorders and Sleep Deprivation 

Stress, depression, and anxiety can induce physical fatigue. This type of exhaustion is not “all in your head,” though it can be easy to dismiss it as such. Exhaustion puts the mind and body in a fog no matter where it comes from. 

Worse, mental disorders and lack of sleep can create a vicious cycle, or “mutually reinforce” one another. 

Lack of sleep can worsen depression. People with depression are more likely to develop a sleep disorder. If one develops, the other may soon follow, and as each intensifies, they worsen each other. 

Depression and the Immune System 

Depression and the immune system can enter a similar vicious cycle if not treated. 

Research tells us that depression suppresses T cell response, which means (a) it’s easier to get sick, (b) it’s harder to get better, and (c) symptoms of illnesses are often exacerbated. The resulting stress on the immune system releases cytokine (a protein associated with inflammation immune responses) into the body and brain. Cytokine affects a part of the brain where depression largely occurs, per our current understanding of depression

Depression makes it easier to get sick, harder to get better, and the symptoms are worse.

This can create a snowball effect wherein depression causes stress that weakens the immune system and worsens physical health, which, in turn, worsens the depression more severe, resulting in even worse physical health. This cycle can be quite difficult to break, especially when a case of depression is attributed to physical illness; in such cases, the providers may only treat the physical symptoms rather than the depression. But to be well, this hypothetical patient needs an approach that addresses their physical and mental health as one system. 

A Holistic Approach to Wellness 

As we see, mental and physical health are connected. Pathways and results flow between one and the other—mental health alters physical health and vice versa. A change in one creates a feedback loop whereas one worsens, the other declines, which makes the original problem worse. 

The good news: this cycle works in both directions. When one improves, so does the other

This is because they aren’t two separate concepts with independent treatments. Physical health and mental health are both health. To be healthy, a patient must consider both in equal measure. 

Silicon Beach Sober Living: A Place to Live Healthier 

The financial, physical, and social struggles of addiction exacerbate mental health troubles. The stress of treatment puts your already-delicate physical health in jeopardy. 

We offer a quality location that provides treatment for people undergoing some of the greatest physical and mental stress they’ll ever face which stands among the best sober living homes in Los Angeles. 

Our Los Angeles sober living homes provide a way for individuals to improve their physical and mental health. Follow us on social media for more information about treatment, sober living, and a holistic, healthy lifestyle.


May 16, 2022

Silicon Beach Sober Living

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