How Your Physical Health Affects Your Mental Health
The Mind/Body Interrelationship
The human mind and body are closely related. You probably already knew that unresolved emotional stress can lead to psychosomatic physical symptoms. However, did you know that depressed people are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease? Did you know that one benefit of sun exposure is increased release of serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone, in the brain? The American Psychological Association has identified the “exercise effect” — the physiological processes engaged through physical exercise can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and normalize sleep patterns. Recent studies in neuroscience have shown that mindful meditation can produce dynamic psycho-physiological responses with strong implications for physical health.
The mind/body interrelationship has been studied since ancient times. The classical Greek physician Hippocrates recognized a profound and complex interrelationship between psychology and physiology in the body. Although modern medicine no longer credits the idea of balancing the “four humors” in the body, there’s certainly a real, if imperfectly understood, connection between mental and physical health. We ignore this interrelationship at our peril.
Should I Be Concerned About My Mental Health?
The term “mental illness” encompasses not only serious disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and substance addictions, but also more “mundane” issues such as mild anxiety and seasonal depression. An estimated 1 in 5 Americans suffer from any mental illness at least once in a year, though the figure is closer to 1 in 6 Californians. Around 1 in 25 American adults — or 10 million people —suffer from serious mental illness which “substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” A 2012 SAMHSA report suggested that the unemployed, the uninsured, those with residential instability, and those already in poor health are more likely than the general population to suffer from mental illness.
In other words, everyone, including you, can benefit from taking simple, proactive steps to improve their mental health.
How to Take Care of Yourself
- Exercise daily. While only aerobic exercise provides maximum cardiovascular benefits, even low-intensity exercises such as walking have been shown to alleviate depression.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep daily, and limit your exposure to electronic light before bed. The jury is out on whether napping is good for mental health.
- Practice deep breathing exercises for relaxation, possibly as part of a yoga, tai chi, or qigong practice.
- Limit or avoid consumption of alcohol and drugs, and if you struggle with abusing them, check out these resources.
- Focus on positive moments and thoughts through such techniques as guided imagery and mindful meditation.
- Surround yourself with people who support and uplift you. Strong, meaningful relationships are even more important to your life and healththan purely physical aspects such as diet.
- Take time for yourself every day to do something you actually enjoy doing.
Five Good Reasons to Seek Professional Mental Help
While you can do a lot towards self-care, sometimes it’s advisable to reach out to a professional. There’s no shame in admitting that you could use some help! Here are the University of Rochester Medical Center’s top five reasons to seek mental health advice:
- If you feel upset, depressed, or otherwise adversely affected by emotions to the point of interfering with your everyday life.
- If you or someone close to you is dealing with a tragic or difficult life situation, such as divorce or the death of a loved one.
- If you’re struggling with alcohol or other substance abuse.
- If you’re overwhelmed by difficult life choices and simply need guidance.
- If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, or even simply losing your will to live because your life seems too painful.
Finding the Right Mental Health Care Provider
Choosing a mental health professional is an important decision, on par with choosing a primary care doctor. If you just need to speak with a behavioral health nurse, you can call one through SAMI-Aid and be connected within minutes. It costs only $39.99 per call! If you prefer to see a psychiatrist or other mental health professional in person, SAMI-Aid can help you find one whom you like and trust at an affordable and up-front price.