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The Link Between Physical and Mental Wellbeing: A Guide For Students at Rhodes Wellness College

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While Western medicine long held the mind and body as separate entities, in truth, they’re more connected than we might think. Although much of today’s health recommendations tend to focus on improving our physical health, neither can be explained or diagnosed without accounting for the other (Hillside, 2019). When our mental health is poor, our physical health can be adversely affected, and vice versa (WebMD Editorial Contributors, 2021). If you’re considering becoming a wellness counsellor, being able to identify sources of a client’s physical and mental health issues will be important to your success in helping others to enhance their wellbeing. With a greater understanding of the link between mental and physical health, you’ll be able to help clients to get their mental and physical wellness in balance and become the healthiest possible versions of themselves. Below, discover more about how these aspects of our health are related.

Mental Health and Physical Health Defined for Wellness College Students

In order to understand the relationship between physical and mental health, it’s important to first define the two concepts. Mental health can be understood as an individual’s emotional, social, and psychological well being, influencing how decisions, emotions, and actions are processed (Hillside, 2019). Individuals with good mental health may be more equipped to express their emotions in a healthy way, deal with difficult situations, and sustain healthy relationships (Hillside, 2019). A decline in an individual’s mental health may lead to changes in their ability to socialize, decreased performance in their professional life, a lack of energy and more, and may also be correlated with psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression (Hillside, 2019). 

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Poor mental health can manifest in changes in an individual’s mood and behaviours

On the other hand, an individual’s physical health is determined by factors like their nutrition and physical activity and amount of sleep. A balanced diet, complete with essential vitamins, minerals, proteins and more, is directly related to one’s bodily health, as is the amount of exercise and sleep one gets (Hillside, 2019). While physical and mental health might seem separate based on their definitions, in fact, they have a significant influence on each other. Below, discover how you’ll see them relate to one another once you become a wellness coach.

Effects of Mental Health on Physical Health

When an individual suffers from poor mental health, it’s likely that their condition can lead to behaviours which compromise their physical health. For example, individuals with schizophrenia have been linked to having a greater risk for development of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, while depression is correlated with chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer (WebMD Editorial Contributors, 2021). The effects of mental health on physical health can be due to various reasons. For one, individuals with poor mental health may be less capable of being motivated to take care of themselves, leading to more physical health problems (Mental Health Foundation, 2021). Additionally, those suffering from mental health problems might have difficulty breaking unhealthy habits or addictions. As an example, people with mental health conditions are more likely to smoke (WebMD, 2021).

How Physical Health Can Affect Mental Health

Just as an individual’s mental health can affect their physical health, an individual with poor physical health is also at a risk of developing mental health problems (CMHA Ontario, 2021). After getting your wellness coach certification, it’s important to look out for certain physical health problems, as they could be affecting a client’s mental health. Physical health issues or ailments such as a cancer diagnosis or heart attack are likely to cause distress and fear, leading to mental health problems over time (WebMD Editorial Contributors, 2021). It’s also been found that almost one in three people with a chronic physical health condition also have a mental health problem, typically in the form of anxiety or depression (Mental Health Foundation, 2021). 

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Chronic illness is correlated with poor mental health

A Dual Approach to Helping Clients to Improve Their Mental and Physical Health

While the relationship between physical and mental health may be surprising, it can be informative when it comes to helping individuals improve their wellness. For example, physical activity has been found to be one of the most important contributing factors to an individual’s physical and mental health (Ohrnberger et. al, 2017). Additionally, an individual’s diet can also affect both their physical and mental health, as a diet high in processed foods may result in decreased mental health or poor physical health (WebMD Editorial Contributors, 2021). Lastly, getting enough sleep can work to improve an individual’s physical and mental health, as sleep has benefits for both the brain and the body (Hillside, 2019). 

As a wellness counsellor, helping your clients to form healthy habits including exercise, a balanced diet, and a good sleep schedule can be a great first step in combating poor mental and physical health. 

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Works Cited: 

CMHA Ontario. (2021). Connection Between Mental and Physical Health. Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/connection-between-mental-and-physical-health/

Hillside. (2019, March 7). The Link Between Physical and Mental Health. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://hside.org/link-between-physical-and-mental-health/

Mental Health Foundation. (2021, July 9). Physical Health and Mental Health. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/physical-health-and-mental-health

Ohrnberger, J., Fichera, E., & Sutton, M. (2017, December). The relationship between physical and mental health: A mediation analysis. ScienceDirect. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953617306639

WebMD Editorial Contributors. (2021, March 29). How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health. WebMD. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/how-does-mental-health-affect-physical-health

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