In our blog article series about preventing chronic illnesses, we’ve discussed the powerful impact diet and exercise can have on preventing diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis. But did you know that your mental health and how you manage stress can also contribute to your risk of developing these chronic illnesses?
Some may like to believe that our emotions have nothing to do with our long-term health, but recent studies have shown a powerful connection between proactive stress management and overall health. Here’s a look at the science behind how good mental health assists with disease prevention:
Happy People Live Longer
Your mental health and lifestyle choices, such as managing stress, play a prominent role in preventing disease. Studies show that when you are happy, you are 39 percent more likely to reach the age of 94 and be 10 times more engaged. But, data also shows that being happy has a direct impact on our physical bodies and that our emotions are being manifested in our bodies -- for better or worse.
Here’s how it works: our thoughts create several different chemicals in the body. When you have a positive thought, your body gets a promotion of positive energy and chemicals, including hormonal changes that impact blood pressure, heart rate, weight loss, diabetes, cholesterol, headaches and/or upset stomach. Over time, these reactions change the way we metabolize our nutrients.
This process also applies to negativity and stress. When in a negative emotional state, such as jealousy, rage, fear or depression, our bodies react by turning on the hormonal systems that are used in times of acute emergencies - the fight or flight response. These hormonal changes increase the level of inflammation in many body tissues leading to increased rates of plaque growth in arteries, higher blood sugar and blood pressure levels, increased acid secretion in our gastrointestinal tracts, and worsening of many allergy-mediated processes, such as asthma, allergies and eczema.
Cultivate Happiness and Manage Stress
How can you use this information to lower your risk of developing a chronic illness? Consider it a wake-up call to respect the role that stress plays in your life and prioritize your mental health. If you frequently feel unhappy or overwhelmed, it may be time to reevaluate your priorities and incorporate more self-care into your routine. Often this means cutting out extra activities to make time for your relationships with family, friends and pets, as well as adding a meditative or spiritual element to your daily life.
Every effort you take to monitor and manage your stress and mental health is an effort that will be reflected in your overall health. Additionally, the better your mental health, the more empowered you’ll be to make other healthy decisions, such as exercising regularly and eating healthy foods. When your perception of the world is positive, you’re more inclined to feel that your decisions matter. When your perception is negative, on the other hand, you’re more likely to succumb to the idea that your choices don’t matter.
Does your mental outlook on health and lifestyle play a part in your ability to prevent disease? Our most advanced research says, “Yes!” On both a chemical and emotional level, managing stress and practicing self-care can help you avoid illness and achieve your best health.