Your Mental Health Can Impact Your Physical Health – Here’s How

Updated: May 25

A woman speaks to a doctor about mental health

Your mental health can have a tremendous impact on your physical health. Here's how, and how therapy can help.

Key takeaways:

  • Chronic stress is one way mental health can impact physical health.

  • Childhood experiences and trauma can also play a role in your health as an adult.

  • Having maladaptive coping skills, such as drinking or smoking, can lead to poor physical health consequences.

  • Mental health can also impact physical health via changes to sleep cycles, hormones, and motivation to make healthy lifestyle decisions, such as preparing nutritious meals or exercising.

  • Some mental health conditions are linked with specific co-occurring disorders, so it’s important to manage your mental health to have better physical health and vice versa.

Global health has taken center stage due to the events of the last few years. In the United States, almost half of Americans are living with a chronic disease. It’s estimated that by 2025, chronic disease will affect 164 million Americans, making it a growing health crisis. Why are Americans getting unhealthier, despite technology and medicine becoming more advanced?

While there are multiple reasons, one of the often-cited is the mental health crisis happening in America and around the world. Mental and behavioral health is often stigmatized, and services are inaccessible, underfunded, and many people don’t receive the help they need. And, unfortunately, mental health can have a huge impact on physical health in multiple ways.

“Behavioral health is inseparable from good physical health and well-being,” writes the American Hospital Association.

The physical impact of chronic stress

Currently, polls show that many Americans are reporting “overwhelming” stress levels. Many adults reported feeling high levels of fatigue, overwhelm, and emotional exhaustion, saying it “feels like there has been a constant stream of crises without a break over the last two years.”

Stress is a normal response to the demands of life. While some kinds of stress can be beneficial, the kind of chronic stress that the majority of Americans are describing can be harmful. Here are some of the symptoms of chronic stress:

  • Anxiety, sadness, and feeling tense

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances

  • Being irritable or having relationship difficulties

  • Cognitive issues

  • Generalized body aches and pains, like headaches

  • Losing interest in activities

Dealing with stress for prolonged periods can cause both mental and physical health challenges. Learning stress management is vital to keep yourself healthy, both physically and mentally. If you struggle with stress management, you may want to consider individual therapy.

Adverse childhood experiences and their impact on physical health

Your childhood experiences and trauma can also play a big role in your health as an adult. A famous study called the Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) study found a link between childhood experiences and health as an adult. Studies have repeatedly shown that the more trauma you experienced as a child, the higher your risk is of developing a chronic illness in adulthood. Exposure to trauma as a child increased the risk of developing the following:

  • Asthma

  • Diabetes

  • Stroke