How Does Emotional Health Impact Physical Health?

The Mind-Body Connection Can Make You Feel Better (Or Worse) Depending On Your Emotional Health Habits

The State Of Emotional Health Today

Given the ways people conflate mental and emotional health (hint: they’re not quite the same!), there isn’t a whole lot of information out there about the reality of emotional health and emotional health care today. That said, what we do know is:

  • Only about 56% of people aged 23-39 would say their current mental health, emotional health, and physical health is “good” [1]
  • About one-third of us regularly engage in unhealthy behaviors (drug use, drinking, smoking) as a result of poor emotional health; another 44%+ use avoidance tactics not to deal with it [2].
  • 43% are concerned that bad emotional health habits will come back to bite them [3].
  • Across the board, more millennial employees than any other generation would participate in every kind of mental, physical, and emotional health care program available if employers made them accessible [4].

Taken together, these statistics paint a troubling picture of emotional health and emotional health care for millennials today. What’s more, they may explain why many of us do (and should) view self-care as an act of self-preservation [5]. Taking steps to take care of your emotional health is essential to learning how to be happy.

[READ MORE: “Do I Hate My Job Or Just Feel Stuck? How To Be Happy Either Way]

What Is Emotional Health?

Mental health has to do with your ability to process information (your cognitive function), while emotional health has to do with your ability to express the feelings you have because of however you’ve processed it [6]. Both are intimately connected to each other and to a person’s ability to be happy. Yet emotional health is indicative of what is happening in your mind, not just in your brain. Though it might seem like seriously splitting hairs to draw a distinction between the two, it’s an important difference to recognize.

When depression disrupts your cognitive processes, for example, you may have a hard time identifying the reality of a situation (mistakenly feeling like you’re stupid, other people don’t like or care about you, or that you will never feel happy again). Then you may experience poor emotional health based on that misunderstanding, like feeling demoralized and hopeless [6].  These, in turn, can lead to abusive self-talk, social isolation, self-harm and addiction, and other seriously unhealthy emotional health habits and physical behaviors.

How Emotional Health Impacts Physical Health

Emotional health is a fundamental part of fostering resilience (the ability to bounce back from difficulties) and self-awareness and is a critical consideration for how to be happy [7]. That said, having good emotional health is about so much more than just looking on the bright side or avoiding negative emotions. It’s all about developing the skills, resources, and emotional health habits to weather the ups and downs that come with everyday life. People with good emotional health are more likely to see opportunity/avenues for improvement where people with poor emotional health are likely to see a dead end and no way forward [8].

What’s more, having poor emotional health impacts physical health way more than many people realize, leading to and exacerbating physically harmful behaviors as well as chronic pain, fatigue, and sleep disruption (and all its associated health consequences). That’s the direct result of what many people call the mind-body connection — that is, how different emotions change different body systems, like blood pressure, heart rate, memory, mood, and immune function [9].

The mind-body connection is how health and behavior experts explain all the ways that your mindset and emotional health can have measurable consequences for your physical health. It’s also how industry experts explain why millennials are the most physically unhealthy generation today [10].

How Does Emotional Health Affect Physical Health?

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that there’s some link between mindset/emotional health and physical health outcomes, like blood pressure, the risk for developing heart disease, body weight, blood sugar levels, and lifespan [8]. That said, the formal research about how emotional health impacts physical health goes in a huge number of different directions.

  • Studies have proven that people who regularly engage in good emotional health habits for long periods of time (like creating a meditation habit) not only experience improve nervous system health — leading to decreased pain and increased cardiovascular health — but also experience a boost in social connectedness, positivity, and generosity [8].
  • People with good emotional health habits respond more positively to receiving physical health advice, becoming more likely to follow through with treatment plans, and be successful in managing chronic conditions [8].
  • Plus, when it comes to people with poor emotional health, research suggests that negative rumination (negative self-talk, inescapable negative thought patterns) can lead people to react to others with hostility, behave neurotically, and ultimately sever social connections, develop a depressed mood, and engage in unhealthy levels of sleep deprivation and substance use [11].
  • Poor emotional health has also been associated with poor quality of life, including experiencing more, more frequent, and more severe physical symptoms of illness, reduced sleep quality, and increased fatigue [12].

All that being said, one of the most impressive ways that emotional health impacts physical health is: instantaneously [13].

The Best Emotional Health Habits

In addition to the above-listed ways that emotional health affects physical health, unhealthy emotions weaken immune responses — especially to viral illness, cancer cell proliferation, and vaccines [14]. This means that emotional health and physical health are closely connected even when it comes to preventive health care measures.

As a result, improving patients’ emotional health habits has become an important part of many physicians’ treatment plans. And this isn’t just based on a hunch; multiple empirical studies show that some forms of therapy and other good emotional health habits can enhance the immune system and improve the body’s ability to fight disease. The ways emotional health improves physical health are clearest when practicing the following emotional health habits [15]:

  1. Mind-body emotional health habits, like yoga, tai-chi, and qigong.
  2. Body-mind emotional health habits, like meditation, guided imagery, and prayer.
  3. Creative emotional health habits, like formal creative art therapy, some types of dance, music, and making art.
  4. Intentional emotional health habits, like support groups and other social support-building activities.
  5. Professionally-led emotional health habits, like cognitive behavioral therapy.

Steps You Can Take Today: How To Be Happy ASAP!

There are some simple mindset shifts you can make immediately that can dramatically improve your chances of emotional success. For example, learning to take control of your life (and responsibility for your choices), be more flexible, and learn from your mistakes are essential overarching attitudes of emotionally healthy people [16]. The primary tools for these mindset shifts include:

  1. Goal-setting;
  2. Stress management; and
  3. Creating a hierarchy of what’s important in your life (and a practice for prioritizing and letting go of the “little things” that happen).

These can be especially challenging mindset adjustments for people who are already experiencing any of the ways poor emotional health affects physical health negatively. Physical pain and exhaustion make it especially hard to make and move towards future plans, and also make it increasingly difficult to manage stress, frustration, disappointment, and other negative emotions that happen in the course of daily life and when things don’t go your way.

How We Can Help

Because of the ways emotional health impacts physical health, emotional health tips tend to be more inclusive and expansive than standard mental health advice, encouraging people to consider what is happening in your mind (thoughts, emotions, world views, attitudes, beliefs, and memories) to figure out, address, and move on from a negative emotion [17]. Here at Prism Vibes, we specialize in helping people discover how to be happy, especially by improving emotional health and teaching good emotional health habits. For more information about how you can learn how to be happy with us, check out our full-service catalog here!



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