How does our emotional health affect our physical health?

Michael B. Finkelstein, MD
Internal Medicine
Your emotional (mind) health can affect your physical (body) health. Different things influence what's on your mind. Some are:
  • where you are
  • what you are eating
  • how your body is feeling
  • how someone is speaking to you
You have varying degrees of control over each of these things. In each moment, your reality and your overall health is ultimately experienced inside your body. That means you have more power and options than you might think.

The more your mind plays back sights and sounds of fear, anger, powerlessness or despair, the more your body enters into or stays in a fight-or-flight mode. This is the body's natural alarm system that turns on when you're faced with what the mind thinks is a life-threatening situation. 

However, this system can't tell the difference between feeling distress about being stuck in bed versus the need to escape a pack of lions. In both situations, the body releases a burst of adrenaline. (That's a chemical, or hormone, that prepares your body for fight-or-flight.) If your mind has a lot of anxious thoughts for a long time, the fight-or-flight mode can get locked in the “on” position. This can use up all your body's energy. It also causes a chain reaction of health problems that can make any pre-existing illnesses worse.

On the contrary, the more your mind engages in thinking that activates feelings of love, gratitude, harmony and joy, the more your body relaxes. It switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. That’s the system that helps the body heals and repairs itself. For example, it triggers skin to grow back over a cut.

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Our emotional health can have a serious effect on our physical health, accordig to vast scientific literature. Being angry all the time, as well as feeling constantly anxious, can make us susceptible to a variety of illnesses, including stroke, heart disease and even diabetes.

But negative emotions are only one-half of the equation. In a 2007 study that followed more than 6,000 men and women, ages 25 to 74, for 20 years, researchers found that emotional vitality -- a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance -- appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The protective effect was distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not smoking and regular exercise.
Drew Ramsey, MD
Our emotional health and our physical health are completely linked; each affects the other, the impacts can go in both directions. In this video, psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, explains how our emotions play a large role in our physical health. 
Cynthia Diefenbeck
Advanced Practice Nursing
Mental health conditions can and do impact physical health for many people. Someone who suffers from depression may lack the energy and motivation to exercise or eat healthy, for example. Studies have also shown that poorly managed chronic depression is associated with brain atrophy (shrinking). 
John Douillard, DC
Herbal Medicine
From an Ayurvedic perspective, our emotional health is directly linked with our physical well-being. For instance, research shows that laughter increases a positive mood and boosts the body’s immune system. Science also shows that living life with a sattvic (or positive) attitude has a profound effect on our health by activating the parasympathetic (resting and digesting) nervous system, supporting us to heal and thrive. Conversely, stress and negative emotions activate the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. Too much stress can make it challenging for the healthy microbes in our gut to survive, which can affect our ability to deal with stressors and our digestion.

Increased happiness levels have been shown to dramatically reduce hospital readmission rates related to patients with heart-related hospital stays. Similarly, optimists have been shown to have better recovery rates after surgeries, and in a study involving male war veterans, optimists showed healthier pulmonary function and reduced risk of cardiovascular issues than pessimists. Interestingly, longevity has also been shown to be linked with sharing your emotions. Other studies showed that writing a love letter significantly reduced total cholesterol levels in its authors, while expressing gratitude also boots our health and well-being. 
Andrew Weil
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
The thoughts you have definitely impact the way you feel physically. In this video, Dr. Weil explains how your mindset influences how you feel physically.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.