Conventional Western medicine is known for traditionally focusing on the physical aspects of a person’s body and health (or disease state) while neglecting the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Yet we all know that you can’t entirely separate one part from the others. Each aspect impacts the other, for good and for bad.
I see this principle play out in real life all the time in my practice, working with women who want to improve their health and rid themselves of symptoms that are reducing their quality of life. The connection between mental health and physical health is especially powerful. That’s what I want to talk about today.
Not Thinking Clearly
Our physical health greatly impacts our mental health in ways that aren’t obvious at first. We’ve all had the experience of feeling ourselves think more slowly and forget basic things when we’re exhausted; the brain literally doesn’t have the energy to function at its best. In addition to lack of sleep, fuzzy, slow thinking and “brain fog” can be caused by chronic stress, hormone fluctuations, medications, poor diet, thyroid dysfunction, and other medical conditions. You can banish brain fog and improve both your mental health and physical health by getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, addressing thyroid dysfunction (if any), and maintaining balanced blood sugar through a healthy diet.
Moodiness and Mood Disorders
Since I work with many peri/menopausal women, I see how the physical affects the mental all the time. Hormone fluctuations during peri/menopause cause moodiness – one of the most well-known symptoms of menopause – and there’s some evidence that these fluctuations can be partly responsible for clinical depression and can also cause anxiety. Exercise, sleep, and diet are treatments you can try on your own to help stabilize mood, but if you are experiencing symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety, I urge you to get professional help.
Chronic stress is the baseline state for far too many people in this country, who may not realize the toll its taking on their overall health. Stress is felt mentally, as the feeling of never being truly at ease, with something else to do, and physically, as that knotted-up feeling in the body that can never truly relax. If chronic stress isn’t dealt with, it can harm cardiovascular health, digestive health, lead to higher weight, lower sex drive, and much more.
So far we’ve looked at the ways physical health and mental health are connected in a negative way. But we can turn it around and actually harness the power of the mind-body connection to help improve physical health by consciously composing and directing our thoughts. Meditation is widely known to be beneficial to physical health, improving cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, helping sleep quality, and much more. Similarly, positive thinking has also been connected to lower levels of depression, better immune function, and more.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health and Physical Health
We humans are complex creatures and it’s impossible to wholly separate mental health from physical health. Use this fact to your advantage. Improve your mental health by developing healthy physical habits like regular exercise and adequate sleep. And improve your physical health by developing healthy mental habits like meditation and positive thinking.