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Connecting the Dots Between Physical and Emotional Health

There’s a link between your emotional health and your physical well-being, so take time to nurture both.

To be completely healthy, you should take care not only of your physical health, but your emotional health, too. If one is neglected, the other will suffer.

What’s the Connection Between Emotional and Physical Health?

There’s a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind [can influence] the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect control much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr. Goodstein.

“As a matter of fact, it’s very probable that many patients who go to their physician’s office with physical complaints have underlying depression,” he says. People who visit their doctors reporting symptoms of headache, lethargy, weakness, or vague abdominal symptoms often end up being diagnosed with depression, even though they do not report feelings of depression to their doctors, says Goodstein.

While unhappy or stressed-out thoughts may not directly cause poor physical health, they may be a contributing factor and may explain why one person is suffering physically while someone else is not, Goodstein adds.

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How Exactly Does the Mind Affect the Body?

There are many ways in which the mind has a significant impact on the body. Here are a few:

  • Chronic illness and depression Depression has been shown to increase the risk for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, according to an article published in 2013 in the Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. A review of studies on diabetes and depression, published in August 2015 in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, found that depression put people at a 41 percent higher risk for the condition. Researchers aren’t yet clear on how mental health influences physical health, but according to a study published in September 2017 in the journal Psychiatria Danubina, it may be that depression affects the immune system, and that habits associated with depression, such as poor diet or lack of physical activity, may create conditions for illness to occur.
  • Depression and longevity According to a review published in June 2014 in World Psychiatry, many major mental illnesses are associated with higher rates of death. Another study, published in October 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests that those with depression may have life spans from about 7 to 18 years shorter than the general population.
  • Physical symptoms of emotional health distress People who are clinically depressed often have physical symptoms, such as constipation, lack of appetite, insomnia, or lethargy, among others.
  • White-coat syndrome This is a condition in which a person’s blood pressure increases the minute they step into a doctor’s office. In white-coat syndrome, anxiety is directly related to physical function — blood pressure. “If you extrapolate from that, you can say, what other kinds of anxieties are these people having that are producing jumps in blood pressure? What is the consequence of repeated stress?” asks Goodstein.

And on the other hand: “Those individuals who have achieved a level of mental health where they can manage better the inevitable conflicts of human life are more likely to prevail in certain kinds of physical illness,” says Goodstein.

How Should You Care for Your Emotional and Physical Well-Being?

It’s hard to do, but slowing down and simplifying routines can go a long way to strengthening your mental and physical health.

  • Eat right. A healthy, regular diet is good for the body and mind.
  • Go to bed on time. Losing sleep is hard on your heart, may increase weight, and definitely cranks up the crankiness meter.
  • If you fall down, get back up. Resilience in the face of adversity is a gift that will keep on giving both mentally and physically.
  • Go out and play. Strike a balance between work and play. Yes, work is a good thing: It pays the bills. However, taking time out for relaxation and socializing is good for your emotional health and your physical health.
  • Exercise. A study published in October 2017 in Reviews in the Neurosciences shows that exercise improves your mood and has comprehensive benefits for your physical health.
  • See the right doctor, regularly. Going to the right doctor can make all the difference in your overall health, especially if you have a complicated condition that requires a specialist. But if your emotions are suffering, be open to seeing a mental health professional, too.

Total health depends on a healthy mind and body. Take time to nurture both.

By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Kathryn Keegan, MD
11/14/2017
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Poor Sleep Associated With Higher Risk Of Chronic Pain

(Reuters Health) – People who sleep poorly may be more likely to develop a chronic pain condition and have worse physical health, a study from the UK suggests.

A general decline in both the quantity and quality of hours slept led to a two- to three-fold increase in pain problems over time, researchers found.

“Sleep and pain problems are two of the biggest health problems in today’s society,” said lead study author Esther Afolalu of the University of Warwick in Coventry.

Pain is known to interfere with sleep, she told Reuters Health by email. But the new study shows “that the impact of sleep on pain is often bigger than (the impact of) pain on sleep,” she said.

Sleep disturbances, she added, contribute to problems in the ability to process and cope with pain.

Afolalu and colleagues reviewed 16 studies involving more than 60,000 adults from 10 countries. The studies looked at how well people were sleeping at the start, and then evaluated the effects of long-term sleep changes on pain, immune function and physical health. Half the participants were tracked for at least four and a half years.

Overall, sleep reductions led to impaired responses to bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances, more inflammation, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and other biomarkers related to pain, fatigue and poor health. Newly developed insomnia doubled the risk of a chronic pain disorder and hip fracture problems, the study authors wrote in the journal Sleep Medicine.

Deterioration in sleep was also associated with worse self-reported physical functioning.

At the same time, researchers didn’t find links between increased sleep and less pain or arthritis, although they did find that improvement in sleep was associated with better physical functioning.

One limitation of the analysis is that the studies relied on participants to recall their own sleep patterns. Also, the studies didn’t all use the same tools to measure sleep quality and quantity.

Future studies should look at sleep patterns for different groups of people and how that affects health, Afolalu said. Her team is now analyzing data from the UK Household Longitudinal Survey to understand sleep, insomnia and health for people with arthritis.

Additional studies should also investigate how sleep deficiency leads to chronic pain disorders, said Dr. Monika Haack, who studies sleep, pain and inflammation at Harvard Medical School’s Human Sleep and Inflammatory Systems Lab in Boston.

Haack, who wasn’t involved with the new research, said in an email, “It is also important to identify whether there is a specific sleep pattern that is most dangerous for pain. For example, does sleep disruption (with frequent, intermittent awakening throughout the night) have a higher impact than a short but consolidated sleep?”

Haack and colleagues recently reported in the journal Pain that restricting sleep on weekdays and catching up on the weekends led to more pain. Furthermore, people who caught up on weekends had a tougher time dealing with pain than those who slept eight hours every night.

“In those already suffering from chronic pain, it is of critical importance to incorporate sleep improvement strategies,” Haack said. “And to have sleep specialists as part of the pain management team.”

SEPTEMBER 19, 2017    Carolyn Crist
SOURCE: bit.ly/2xcwb8b Sleep Medicine, online August 18, 2017.    www.reuters.com