Ways that Mental Health Affects Physical Health

From ancient Socratic seminars to the work of Descartes, humans have long pondered the connection between our minds and bodies. Modern medical science has been able to observe the many ways mental and physical health interact and impact one another. Armed with this knowledge, healthcare providers are able to better understand the experiences of their patients and provide holistic care to bring about better outcomes. Understanding the connection between mental health and physical health is also valuable for people who don’t work in healthcare, equipping them with helpful knowledge to better guide their choices outside of the doctor’s office and better communicate with their health team. 

In addition to providing primary healthcare services to our community, Richfield Medical Group believes in fostering a greater understanding of health for the people we serve. Keep reading to learn some of the ways in which mental health affects physical health.

1. Mental Health Impacts Gut Health

When people experience negative stress like anxiety about work, or positive stress like anticipating a date, they often feel flutters in their stomachs. Experiencing “butterflies” in conjunction with our emotions is normal, caused by the release of hormones and sympathetic neurotransmitters. For people struggling with chronic stress, depression and/or anxiety, this natural biological response can have long term impacts on the gut’s microbiome. Changes in the physiology of the digestive system brought on by mental health issues can lead to digestive dysfunction, increased sensitivity and pain. Identifying physical and emotional triggers for digestive issues enables better care and patient outcomes.

2. Mental Health Impacts Chronic Health

It’s commonly known that depression causes fatigue and inhibits our motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy foods. These things alone have drastic impacts on our physical health, leading to sleep disorders, nutrition deficiencies, weight-management concerns and increased risk for various health conditions. Additionally, studies have linked depression to insulin resistance, making mental health an important consideration for diabetics and those at-risk for diabetes. Chronic stress, depression and anxiety have also been linked to inhibited immune response, which has major implications for autoimmune disease and the progression of some cancers. Increased cortisol production brought on by mental health conditions also impacts heart health, increasing the risk for heart attack, heart disease and more. 

3. Mental Health Can Fuel Physical Recovery 

While poor mental health is disruptive to our physical health, the connection between mind and body can be harnessed to improve physical recovery. In the study linked above regarding the impact of mental health on the immune system, researchers find the connection promising for treatment of immune system disorders. Additionally, the old adage that “laughter is the best medicine” is finding increased support, particularly in research around the efficacy of laughter yoga, first introduced in the mid-90s by Dr. Madan Kataria, which has been used to treat Aphasia, help palliative patients, and improve outcomes for cancer and other chronic disease patients. Subsequent studies around the world have noted laughter’s impact across a number of health applications. By decreasing stress hormones and boosting the production of antibodies and immune cells, laughter helps strengthen our defense against disease and illness. Laughter’s natural endorphin release helps mute pain and decrease stress. Laughter improves blood flow and helps strengthen the heart while also providing muscle relaxation and an accessible form of full-body exercise. 

Manage Your Health with Richfield Medical Group 

Richfield Medical Group provides primary health care for the whole family. We take a personal approach to healthcare that places patient needs first. Taking the time to listen to your concerns and understand your circumstances, your health care team at Richfield Medical Group makes sure we aren’t just providing you with the guidance and care you need, but also keeping you informed every step of the way. We understand the relationship of mental and physical health, and approach each patient with understanding, care and personalized one-on-one attention. From telehealth, same day visits and routine physical exams to managing chronic illness, Richfield Medical Group is a dedicated partner to our patients. To discover a proactive care team, focused on your wellbeing, visit Richfield Medical Group online today.