#Askingforafriend: Physical and mental health connections
By Nicholas Rudgear
GCU Office of Student Care
Whenever someone comes to see me for mental health counseling for the first time, I always ask them about their physical health. The reality is that there is an intricate relationship between our mental and physical health; one will always affect the other.
That relationship can be a double-edged sword in that when one is suffering, the other is likely suffering as well. But there is good news about this connection – improving one area can improve the other!
Many who need mental health care have little to no awareness of the significant impact of this relationship. It’s the reason I ask about physical health care and include it in my clinical work with my clients.
If you find you are struggling with your mental health or simply want to improve your wellbeing, here are physical health areas that impact mental health:
- Sleep: Are you getting enough high-quality sleep? Do you have a consistent sleep routine and schedule? Are there barriers or modifications you can make to your lifestyle to improve your sleep?
- Exercise: Are you exercising enough? Or at all? Research consistently shows that regular, aerobic exercise is as effective in many people as our best anti-depressants! The benefits of exercise for mental health also extend to many other types of mental health conditions. Incorporating regular, appropriate exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.
- Diet: How is your overall diet? Do you skip meals often? Eat at irregular times? Have appropriate portion sizes? Drink coffee/energy drinks? Alcohol? These all can adversely affect our mental health. Furthermore, there is an emerging area of research on gut/digestive health’s impact on mental health.
Look, I know this can seem rudimentary or redundant. And I also recognize that when we are struggling with our mental health, it can severely and negatively affect our ability to attend to these different areas.
It’s hard to exercise when depressed. I get it. However, taking care of our physical health is just as much a treatment intervention as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or any other therapy technique.
Because they are connected, it’s challenging to improve mental health while having poor physical health habits. Get back to the basics on your physical health, and your mental health will thank you. If you are struggling in these areas, see your primary care physician or a mental health counselor.