If you think your mind and body don’t affect each another, think again.
It’s easy to think of our minds and our bodies as being completely separate. But nothing could be further from the truth—they are intricately connected to each other.
The fact is that people with chronic health conditions are at a higher than normal risk of developing a mental health condition. Those with mental health conditions are also at a higher than normal risk of developing serious physical conditions. In many cases, it becomes a vicious cycle that’s hard to escape. A serious health condition can lead to depression and anxiety, which can worsen the health condition or lead to others, which can increase the person’s depression and anxiety symptoms, and so on.
There are a number of ways in which our mental health can affect our physical health and vice-versa. Here are some examples:
- A mental health condition can make it harder for you to deal with a chronic illness. If you’re depressed or anxious, you might not have the energy or motivation to follow up with the recommended treatment for your health issue. Without proper treatment, your physical condition could get worse, which might lead to increased depression or anxiety. On the flip side, being diagnosed with a serious illness can cause you to develop a mental health condition in the first place.
- A mental health condition might cause disruptions in sleep patterns. Sleep is essential for good health. It’s meant to help us recharge our brains and our bodies. Regularly sleeping less than 7 hours per night increases your risk of serious health conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Sleeping too much can cause the same health issues, plus headaches and back pain. Not getting enough quality sleep can also affect your immune system, which makes it difficult for you to ward off illnesses.
- A person experiencing a serious physical illness, injury or mental health condition might engage in dangerous behaviors. Some people turn to alcohol, drugs or cigarette smoking as a way to cope with both physical and mental health issues. Drinking too much alcohol can contribute to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, liver disease, pancreatic disease and cancer. Illegal drugs take a heavy toll on the heart and nervous system, which can lead to seizures, hemorrhaging and heart attacks. Cigarette smoking is a proven risk factor for asthma, emphysema, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
- People with mental illness are less likely to seek routine medical care, such as annual physicals. Preventive visits include essential screenings—like blood pressure, weight and cholesterol checks, among others—which help detect and manage health conditions. It is much easier to manage health conditions that are caught early and are well-controlled compared to when routine medical care has been skipped or recommendations ignored.
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Date Last Reviewed: August 16, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD