How Your Mental & Physical Health Connect
by Megan Grant
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The connection between our minds and bodies is so often dismissed as rubbish, because one is looked at as a "merely" an emotional state, while the other is considered somehow more concrete. But make no mistake about it: There are numerous ways your mental health affects your physical health. If you think your body doesn't know when you're happy, euphoric, calm, a little blue, or depressed? Well, think again. A large deal of research has established the relationship between mind and body, and the connection they have wherein they're constantly influencing one another.

Personally, I believe that one of the reasons we have such a hard time understanding this connection is because we assume that when something hurts or is ailing us, that is the problem. If your joints hurt, your joints need help. If your stomach hurts, you have stomach problems. If you're exhausted, you're just not sleeping enough. In actuality, the cause of your troubles could be outside the problem area entirely. (It's worth noting, of course, that correlation is not causation — but indeed, that's kind of the point.)

The information on the mind-body relationship is beyond plentiful, and it's an idea we should all become better acquainted with. Here are just a few examples of ways that your mental health can have an impact on your physical health.


Sadness, Stress, And Inflammation

A doctor by the name of Esther Sternberg recently identified a relationship between the parts of the brain that control stress and depression — which, in turn, have a big hand in your susceptibility and resistance to inflammatory diseases. This connection may help explain why patients with inflammatory diseases may also suffer from depression at some point. Stress has also been heavily correlated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and hormonal imbalance.


Low Self-Esteem And Respiratory Infections

One study from the American Psychological Association found that people who exhibit self-blame or low self-esteem also had less immunoglobin-A in their saliva, which means that they were more susceptible to respiratory infections.


Positive Thoughts And Immunity

Yet another study, which involved 270 people and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, asked participants to think of something that made them either happy or sad. After, they received a flu vaccine and were monitored for the next sixth months. After this time, the participants with better immunity (that is, they had more antibodies in their bloodstream) were those with more positive thoughts, measured by activity in the pre-frontal cortex.

Negative emotional health has been shown to be related to a number of negative physical side effects, including back pain, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, a stiff neck, and stomachaches.


Mapping Out Emotions And Health

In one study, researchers in Finland asked 700 participants to think about one of 14 given emotions. They were also given a blank silhouette and asked to paint the areas of the body which felt stimulated by whatever emotion they were told to think about. On a second silhouette, they painted the areas that felt deactivated for that emotion. The results showed similar experiences among the participants and what they felt or didn't feel. For example, feelings of disgust triggered stimulation in the digestive system and around the throat. Feelings of both joy and anger brought stimulation to the limbs. Feelings of sadness, however, left the limbs "numb."


Fighting And Difficulty Healing

Having a heated argument with someone can metaphorically leave your blood boiling, but what's happening even further beneath the surface? To find out, scientists at Ohio State University used a suction device that left tiny blisters on the arms of couples. These participants were then asked to talk about something they disagree and get emotional about. As a result, their blisters took 40 percent longer to heal than participants who didn't argue. The scientists determined that this may have been due to an increase in cytokines (immune molecules that cause inflammation), which are also related to arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It's further reason to believe that your thoughts and feelings affect your health!


When You Say Nice Things About Someone

A study published in Human Communication Research found that when people took three 20-minute sessions per week to write nice things about their loved ones, they achieved lower cholesterol within five weeks. When you find the positivity in things, apparently everyone wins.