Understanding the Connection Between Mental & Physical Health

The Relationship Between Mental & Physical Health

October 18, 2018

When you think about your health, chances are the first thing that comes to mind is your physical health – your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc. We often consider mental health a separate matter entirely.

We can easily slip into the habit of compartmentalizing our symptoms as “physical” or “mental” without considering how they may be related. The problem with this is that many times our mental and physical symptoms are related. Poor physical health can contribute to poor mental health and vice versa.

The Relationship Between Mental and Physical Health

Just think of the last time you were under a lot of stress. Maybe you noticed your stomach was upset as well, or maybe you had a nagging headache. These symptoms likely disappeared when the stressor was removed, but it’s possible for longer-lasting connections to occur when your mental state doesn’t get that relief.

When mental health issues are present for an extended period of time, such as chronic anxiety or depression, more serious physical health complications can appear, such as:

  1. Heart disease
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Weakened immune system
  4. Asthma
  5. Obesity
  6. Gastronomical problems
  7. Sleep disturbances

These conditions can then lay the groundwork for even more complications or worsen already existing symptoms. People with anxiety, for example, will frequently experience insomnia. When insomnia is present, anxiety symptoms tend to be exacerbated, causing a cyclical relationship.

How to Improve Mental and Physical Health

The good news is that there are changes you can start making to your lifestyle that may help improve your mental and physical health at the same time.

  1. ExerciseEveryone knows exercise is good for us. But not only does it keep us physically healthy, it also affects mental health positively by helping improve brain function, increasing endorphins, and can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Yoga is a great way to help calm the mind while giving your body a challenge. If you’re just starting out, aim for 20 minutes of exercise five days a week – this can be as simple as going for a walk.
  2. Eat WellWe’re learning more and more about just how much diet impacts our bodies. While we can link specific foods to brain health, new research has begun to suggest that certain foods could help lower anxiety. In addition to improving your mental health, eating right will keep you in better physical shape too.
  3. Sleep WellSleep is closely linked to physical and mental health. Poor sleep can lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, stress, weight gain, and heart disease, to name a few. If you haven’t already, start making sleep a priority. Try these easy tips to get better sleep tonight.
  4. SocializeStudies have shown that people with strong social ties to friends, family, and their community, are happier and live longer than people without those ties. Furthermore, people who are lacking social connections are at a higher risk for depression and cognitive decline over time. So, make an effort to spend time around people whose company you enjoy – it’s good for your health!
  5. Craft Research has shown that when we use our hands to create something, we feel a unique sense of satisfaction. This is because activities like painting, woodworking, or knitting reinforce the hand-brain connection. This kind of activity engages our brains in a more creative way – and our brains like that!

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Oberheu, Anne Marie. (2017, March 28). “How Your Mental Health Affects Your Physical Health.” Retrieved from http://blog.bcbsnc.com/2017/03/mental-health-affects-physical-health/

Wolff, Carina. (2016, April 18). “11 Things To Do Daily For Your Mental Health, So You Can Stay Balanced & Happy.” Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/154896-11-things-to-do-daily-for-your-mental-health-so-you-can-stay-balanced-happy