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Connecting physical and mental illness|clock and insomnia|woman struggling to put pants on|woman holding hurting hand|woman with stress|woman getting thyroid checked

Health & Wellness

Connecting Physical and Mental Health Illnesses

There is no doubt that physical health and mental health are connected; emotions and thoughts affect overall health, and overall health affects emotions and beliefs. Highlighted below are 10 health conditions that are influenced by an individual’s mental state or vice versa.

clock and insomnia

Insomnia and Anxiety/Stress

An estimated 40 million Americans struggle with long-term sleep disorders and 20 million more experience occasional sleep problems. When individuals experience stress and anxiety, they are more likely to face insomnia , other sleeping disorders, and restless nights. A lack of sleep or poor sleep quality is linked to impaired cognitive function, an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. 1

Obesity and Depression

Obesity and depression share a complicated physical and psychological relationship. Obesity and depression both carry public stigmas that may lead to isolation and loneliness. Research shows that when depression occurs, obesity can follow, and when obesity occurs, depression can follow. Part of the equation is the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone is released to counteract the effects of stress, but the downside is that it can cause the buildup of fat around the abdomen. 2

woman struggling to put pants on

Weight Gain and Stress

According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, stress can cause weight gain. 3 Scientists have identified cortisol levels as an active participant in weight gain, but chronic stress may also contribute to unhealthy dietary behaviors like binge-eating, overeating, and poor dietary choices.

Gut-Brain Axis

Gut health is directly linked to the brain. This is called the gut-brain axis (GBA). The gut and the brain enjoy bidirectional communication that connects the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain directly with intestinal function. 4 Scientists now know that inadequate levels of friendly bacteria in the gut may lead to anxiety and major depressive disorder according to animal trials.

Some researchers actually refer to the gut as the “second brain” because of the gut’s ability to influence emotional health. Emeran Mayer, Professor of Physiology, Psychiatry, and Biobehavioral Sciences at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA confirmed that a significant proportion of emotions are probably influenced by nerves in the gut. 5

Need personal proof? Think of the last time you spoke in front of a crowd, went on a first date, or were publicly acknowledged. Did you experience butterflies in your stomach? That was stress causing a physical manifestation of your angst in the center of your gut.

woman holding hurting hand

Arthritis and Depression

Arthritis causes chronic pain and limited mobility, which in turn may lead to anxiety and depression. According to researchers from Australia, depression intensifies pain and makes it more difficult to treat—and it holds true for all forms of arthritis including osteoarthritis, gout, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and even lupus. 6

Heart Disease and Depression

Heart disease and depression go hand-in-hand too. After a heart attack or a diagnosis of heart failure, depression is common. Additionally, individuals with depression have a higher risk of developing heart disease than the general population. This is according to Roy C. Zieglstein, M.D., from Johns Hopkins Medicine.

A positive mental state and maintaining a positive attitude may improve recovery after a heart attack, and depression seems to lower the chance of a full recovery after a heart attack, according to clinical trials. 7

Chronic Pain and the Brain

The opioid painkiller epidemic continues to grow at breathtaking rates, and researchers are now exploring how chronic pain alters thinking and behaviors. The brain is responsible for processing all pain—physical pain and emotional pain. According to The Pain Project, the brain records pain as a traumatic event that stimulates a response from the nervous system. 8

Many individuals with chronic pain also experience poor concentration, memory problems, depression, and anxiety. In the 1980s, researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center found impaired memory and concentration were directly linked to poor family support and emotional distress. This led researchers to stress the importance of incorporating memory and concentration activities as part of chronic pain treatment. 9

woman with stress

Stress and Disease

We’ve talked about how chronic stress can cause insomnia and weight gain, but it can also trigger migraines, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 10 The way the body responds to stress can lead to sustained increases in blood pressure which, over time, may damage arteries and increase plaque formation. Stress also alters the immune system, causes inflammation, and puts individuals at greater risk of certain infectious diseases. 11

Stress, Anxiety, and Muscles

Do you have tight muscles, tension, aches, and pains in the neck, back, or shoulders? Stress just may be at the root of your discomfort. Anxiety and stress cause the body to produce adrenaline and cortisol, which are sent to targeted spots in the body. These stress hormones can cause blood vessels to constrict, resulting in nerve discomfort, muscle tension, poor mobility, and even impaired cognitive function. 12

woman getting thyroid checked

Thyroid Disease and Stress

The thyroid gland is responsible for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body, including the production of key hormones related to mental health. When the thyroid gland isn’t operating optimally, it can cause nervousness, depression, racing heart, anxiety, irritability, poor concentration or “ brain fog,” mood swings, insomnia, and short-term memory loss.

These symptoms can appear with hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) or with hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). 13

While thyroid disease can cause mental health problems, chronic stress may physically affect the thyroid gland. Because of the release of cortisol and other stress hormones, chronic stress may slow the metabolism and lead to insulin resistance for some individuals. Stress is also linked to autoimmune diseases, including the thyroid disorders Graves disease and Hashimoto’s disease.


As evidenced above, the connection between mental and physical well-being is a strong one. This is why it’s particularly important to find time for self-care practices, even when it seems like you simply can’t find time for it in your busy schedule. Whether it’s going for a walk or run outside, hitting the gym, or trying aromatherapy at home or on the go with a personal diffuser like Zen , taking the time to do something for yourself can help ensure that you remain healthy both mentally and physically.

Photo credits: igorstevanovic/, NinaBuday/, OlenaYakobchuk/, Paulik/, Andrey_Popov/, panitanphoto/

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