The Mind-Body Connection: How Emotional Health Impacts Chronic Diseases

Emotional Health

Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 08:27 am

Today, most people recognize that battling any kind of chronic disease can be incredibly stressful, and increases the risk of mental health problems such as depression or anxiety disorders. However, this relationship goes both ways and is described as the ‘mind-body connection’. There is a growing body of evidence showing that the mind-body connection has a significant influence on our health and wellbeing and experts emphasize that we cannot treat emotional or mental health as separate from physical health.

Your emotional health has a direct impact on the progression and management of chronic diseases in many ways, and understanding this impact is the first step towards dealing with it. If you or a loved one lives with a chronic illness, make it a point to talk to a therapist, clinical psychologist, or any other mental health professional. If physical therapy is not feasible because of restricted mobility or for any other reason, you can also find some of the best therapists online.

How Emotional Wellbeing Affects Chronic Diseases

Effects On Inflammation – Negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and depression, have been linked to increased inflammation in the body, while positive emotions and greater life satisfaction are associated with a reduced risk of having clinically elevated levels of inflammatory biomarkers like C-reactive Protein. This is important, as high levels of inflammation are known to hasten the progression of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.

Effects On Immune Function – Individuals who suffer from mental illnesses like depression tend to have weakened or impaired immune function, which doesn’t just make them susceptible to infections, but also increases the risk of chronic illnesses and worsening of disease symptoms. Stress-induced changes in immune function can contribute to the pathogenesis of chronic diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.Evidence also shows that psychosocial interventions such as behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, CBT, and other psychotherapiescan improve immune function and protect against chronic diseases.

Effects On Cardiac Function – While the effect of increased chronic inflammation is known to pose a threat to cardiac health, stress and other negative emotions also directly affect heart health. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline cause your heart rate and blood pressure to rise, damaging the blood vessels and contributing to the development of atherosclerosis, kidney disease, stroke, and so on. According to a study that appeared in the European Journal of General Practice, having one type of cardiovascular disease (CVD) increases the risk of developing other types of CVD and it makes you more vulnerable to chronic diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and epilepsy.

Effects On Metabolic Health –Emotionalhealth can impact metabolic health parameters such as blood glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, and lipid profiles, all of which are relevant to chronic diseases like diabetes and metabolic syndrome.Research shows that the effects of negative emotions and poorly managed stress can increase anxiety, trigger depression, and raise inflammation, which are all associated with poor metabolic health.

Effects On Self-Care & Disease Management – Self-care is crucial for anyone with chronic diseases as it gives you greater control over your health, enhances quality of life, and optimizes treatment outcomes. Poor emotional health directly influences your behavior and lifestyle choices that have a direct impact on chronic disease management and progression. For example, negative emotions such as stress and anxiety are associated with unhealthy behaviors like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet, physical inactivity, and medication non-adherence. Consequently, dealing with emotional health issues improves outcomes in chronic disease management.

Coping With Emotional Challenges When Living With Chronic Illness

  • Recognize that it’s normal to experience a range of emotions, including sadness, frustration, fear, or anger when living with a chronic illness. Allow yourself to acknowledge and validate these feelings without judgment.
  • Connect with a support group as sharing your emotions with others who can relate to your experience will help alleviate feelings of isolation and provide a sense of validation and belonging.
  • Practice meditation and other relaxation techniques like deep breathing to consciously reduce stress and better deal with emotions.
  • Prioritize exercise, nutrition, sleep, and relaxation to support both physical and emotional well-being. This should also include the pursuit of activities that give you pleasure, whether it’s playing a sport or dancing.

When dealing with a chronic disease, emotional baggage may seem like too much to deal with because you already have so much to manage. However, it’s a vital part of your care. Make it a point to be kind to yourself, be patient, and seek help.

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