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What’s The Link Between Your Mental and Physical Health?

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You’ve probably heard the old adage that you can die from a broken heart. But is that actually true? 

The short answer is yes (though unlikely). The truth is, there is a connection between mental health and physical health. 

Your whole health includes the physical, mental and social aspects of your life. And when you really think about it, it’s no surprise that our mental and physical health are connected. In fact, research suggests that the two are so closely linked that they can even directly affect one another. For example, depression can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. And chronic conditions (like cancer or heart disease) can increase your risk of developing a mental health condition. 

So, does this mean if you take action to improve your physical health, you can positively influence your mental health? Or vice-versa? Possibly. 

Keep reading to learn more about a few of the common connections between mental and physical health symptoms. 

Overlapping conditions

Many physical and mental health conditions cause similar symptoms to occur — think changes in your eating habits, decreased energy levels, or even physical aches and pains.

Having two overlapping conditions (or diseases), whether mental, physical, or one of each is often referred to as a comorbidity. 

Research shows specific physical conditions are more likely to have comorbid mental health conditions. Some examples include:

Diabetes: People with diabetes are 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 20% more likely to experience anxiety than those without diabetes.

Chronic respiratory diseases: People with conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, or asthma are more likely to report symptoms of depression — depression is the second most common self-reported comorbidity among people living with COPD.

Psoriasis: The risk of depression, anxiety, or developing a sleep disorder is higher for those with psoriasis than those without. 

While many mind-body connections are established between overlapping conditions, this does not mean that if you have a physical health condition, you will experience a co-existing mental condition. Often, you can control comorbid conditions by making healthy lifestyle choices and remaining conscious of your daily habits. 

Side effects from medication

Some of the connections between mental and physical health can come as a side effect of medications or treatment. 

Some medications used to treat mental health conditions can have physical side effects. For example, the most commonly reported side effects of antidepressants include four physical changes: nausea, weight gain, diarrhea, and changes to your sleep cycle. 

For antipsychotic medications, you might experience physical symptoms such as low blood pressure or a low number of white blood cells (which help prevent infection). The mind-body connection is so strong that someone taking an atypical antipsychotic medication also often has their weight, glucose, and lipid levels regularly monitored by a doctor. 

Likewise, some medications used to treat physical health conditions can cause psychological side effects. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any physical or mental side effects you may be experiencing from medication, whether they seem common or not. 

Genetic conditions 

Both physical and mental health conditions can be hereditary. Your family’s health history (especially your immediate family) can help determine your risk of a genetic health condition. 

Common examples of physical health conditions that may be hereditary include heart disease, asthma, diabetes, some types of cancer, and single-gene disorders like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia.

In addition, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting potential genetic roots.” Some genetic disorders can include: 

  • Autism
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression 
  • Schizophrenia

In addition, if you lived — or are living — with someone with a mental health condition, you may have experienced toxic stress. Although not a genetic condition, the CDC says that toxic stress can “change brain development and affect how the body responds to stress.”

It’s important to remember that just because someone in your immediate family has a mental or physical health condition does not mean you are destined to develop symptoms, too. If you are concerned about your genetic or environmental predisposition to a mental or physical health condition, talk to your doctor or licensed mental health professional. 

Traumatic experiences and environment 

While it’s true that our health is a reflection of our lifestyle choices, behaviors, and genes, it’s also true that our health as adults is significantly impacted by our past, especially our childhood.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or potentially traumatic events in childhood (0-17 years). ACEs can affect anyone, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or location. 


In 1995, the CDC-Kaiser ACE study released a landmark investigation exploring the relationship between early adversity and its impacts on adult health outcomes. The study revealed major findings, including: 

  • ACEs are extremely common. 64% of Americans have experienced at least one ACE, and 13% have experienced four or more.
  • As the number of ACEs increases for any individual, so does the risk for negative physical and mental health outcomes. 

While having ACEs can influence a child’s long-term health, ACEs do not guarantee negative outcomes in life. Protective factors, like having an important adult figure in life, can buffer children from the negative influences of ACEs. 

Examining your own mind-body connection

In the past, doctors treated diseases without considering the mental health components. But now, we understand that mental and physical health are related. And because mental and physical health are so closely connected (and often cannot be separated), treating and managing some of the most common chronic conditions includes changing our behaviors.

To ensure you’re doing the most you can for your health, make sure you’re participating in activities like exercise, healthy eating, work and play balance, and seeing the right doctor and therapist regularly.

Research shows that the more healthy lifestyle choices you can make, the more likely you are to experience higher life satisfaction and lower psychological distress. Some examples of healthy lifestyle changes include: 

  • Incorporating more physical activity into your routine
  • Engaging in mentally-stimulating or social activities
  • Having moderate or no alcohol consumption 
  • Abstaining from tobacco 
  • Keeping a regular weight for your body 
  • Developing a schedule or routine

If you are someone who has a mental or physical condition, it is important to acknowledge your mind-body connection and pay close attention to both your mental and physical health. And, if you think you are experiencing a comorbid condition, talk to a doctor or therapist about your symptoms. 


If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, do not use this site. Instead, call 911 or use one of these emergency resources for immediate help.

Last Updated:
Published:
First Published:
February 14, 2022

Sources:

Bang CH, Yoon JW, Chun JH, et al. Association of Psoriasis With Mental Health Disorders in South Korea. JAMA Dermatol. 2019;155(6):747–749. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2019.0315

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Common Genetic Factors Found in 5 Mental Disorders. (2013, March 18). National Institutes of Health (NIH). Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/common-genetic-factors-found-5-mental-disorders

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Diabetes and Mental Health. (2021, May 7). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/mental-health.html

Genetic Alliance. A Guide to Genetics and Health. Washington (DC): Genetic Alliance; 2006. Diseases that run in the family. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK115605/

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NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. (n.d.). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/comorbidity

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