Why Emotional Health Is The Foundation Of Mental And Physical Health

by | Aug 5, 2021

More and more physicians and healthcare providers have come to understand the link between emotional health and physical health.

The two have a complex interplay of effects that either improve or worsen the other.

For example, a back injury causes pain. The pain causes loss of mobility and ability to do the normal things in life, leading to depression.

That depression causes poor sleeping habits, poor eating choices and increased alcohol use – all of which makes the pain of the back injury worse.

While this web of interaction is well-known, but what is not so well known, or often lumped together under the term “mental health”, is role of emotional health in overall health.

Emotional health – the realizing, processing of and reaction to our daily emotional landscape is proving to not just be a subset of mental health.

We are learning now that emotional health just may be the key that unlocks the door to greater overall mental andphysical health.

The Difference Between Emotional And Mental Health

Emotional health and mental health are very similar in many respects. They both describe our complex inner world of thoughts, emotions, desires, fears, wants and needs.

While the two are interwoven and often overlap, they are two separate aspects of psychological health. Let’s take a quick second to define these two terms:

Mental Health:

According to MentalHealth.gov, mental health includes emotional, psychological and social well-being and how it affects what we think, feel and how we act.

Many things can affect our mental health including: biological factors like brain chemistry, life experiences and genetic predispositions to mental health problems.

Mental health focuses more on thought process and brain functioning, even though our emotional state can greatly affect our current mental health.

Emotional Health:

Humans, by nature, are emotional creatures. We can experience a wide array of emotions in any given day. Emotional health describes our ability to recognize our emotions and feelings, process them and react to them in a healthy manner.

Two major components of emotional health include: emotional intelligence and emotional resilience.

Emotional intelligence is a person’s awareness of their emotional state and that of others in response to external stimuli. Too often we experience emotions without the understanding or realization of why we’re feeling that way.

Emotional resilience is the ability to adjust to circumstances and recover from an emotional shock or setback. Example: how well do you take bad news, stress or failure?

These definitions may sound very similar, and in fact, the line between mental and emotional health is often blurry.

Where we can draw a distinction is the impact that our emotional health can have on both mental and physical health.

The Effects Of Emotional Health On Whole Health And The Workplace

Emotional health plays a primary role in the overall health of employees in the workplace and on health benefits utilization. This includes:

  • Decreased job performance
  • Absenteeism (30-40% attributable to mental health issues1)
  • Poor interactions between customers and fellow employees
  • 58% of the work-related disabilities are related to mental health1
  • Lower overall health, satisfaction and quality of life
  • Less motivation to engage in healthy behaviors
  • Higher alcohol, drug and tobacco use

Physically, unchecked and unrealized negative emotions (especially stress and depression) can affect every system of our body.

Physical effects include2:

  • Raised blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased severity and intensity of chronic pain (ex: musculoskeletal MSK pain)
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Worsened chronic disease (diabetes, heart disease, obesity)

Mental effects include:

  • Poor decision making
  • Inappropriate reactions to events
  • Apathy
  • Decreased brain function (brain fog)
  • Irritability

These are but a few of the complex effects emotional health can have on physical and mental well-being. However, emotional health – being able to recognize and process our emotions in a healthy way underpins overall health.

This is especially true for sufferers of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity or heart disease. Chronic disease is the leading health issue in the U.S. today, with co-morbidities reducing the quality of life for millions and driving billions in healthcare costs.

Strategies For Improving Emotional Health

As employers and healthcare providers, the goal of population health is achieving better quality of life and job performance while reducing healthcare utilization.

Healthy employees perform better and with good physical health, have less need for expensive medications, procedures and treatments.

We’re going to look a t few simple ways to improve emotional health individually and then talk about one strategy in particular that is revolutionizing overall population health.

Simple ways to improve emotional health:

  • Being Aware – when emotions arise, whatever they are, stop and take a second to acknowledge them and identify the cause.
  • Think Before You Act – before you act on an emotion, think about your response and why you are responding that way.
  • Get Healthy – proper diet, regular exercise and healthy sleep are a necessary foundation for emotional and mental health.
  • Manage Stress – stress is one of the major drivers of negative emotional states. Practice meditation, mindfulness, journaling, exercise, create a hobby or talk to someone to help manage stress.
  • Find Balance – it can be difficult to balance work and home life. Unplugging and finding time for yourself is necessary to regain emotional balance.

For population health, there’s a new way forward that combines technology and human care: behavioral health change programs.

Digital health behavioral change programs paired with evidence-based health coaching are systems that pair with traditional healthcare providers to help employee populations better manage all aspects of health. They’ve had great success in managing chronic disease, improving mental wellness, injury recovery and lowering overall healthcare costs.

Using tech platforms, phone apps, health monitoring and 1:1 health coaching, they are that constant angel on the should helping clients to make healthier lifestyle choices, manage chronic disease and improve mental health.

While many behavioral change programs focus primarily on managing disease, chronic pain and mental health, very few have realized the impact of emotional health on total health – therefore, it often remains underutilized.

Behavior change programs that place emotional health at the forefront have shown dramatic success in improving overall health and creating healthy habits that last.

Going forward, truly effective behavior change programs must put an increased focus on emotional health to create better health outcomes – because healthy lifestyle changes cannot be sustained without robust emotional health.

1T. Rajgopal. Mental well-being at the workplace Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2010 Sep-Dec; 14(3): 63–65. doi: 10.4103/0019-5278.75691

2Mayo Clinic: Stress Management (effects of)