How Mental Health Affects Physical Health

Even though these are uncomfortable, they can be warning signs that our mental health is at risk.  We may be experiencing more pressure at work or school, or anxious about an upcoming event.  Sometimes these symptoms are mild but sometimes these symptoms can lead to chronic illness.  I recently ignored all the signs that my mental health was in jeopardy as we entered the month of May which ironically is Mental Health Awareness Month. I don’t want you to miss the warning signs like I did.  How can we learn to do a better job paying attention to the physical symptoms our body’s use as warnings to communicate  with us?

Get to know yourself   

 Some of us are prone to headaches when we get upset or feel pressure or stress and others hold all our stress in our shoulders.  Get to know yourself and how you react physically to your mental and emotional health.  Even more important, what are some things you can do when you recognize the physical symptoms of your mental health? 

My Story of Ignoring the Symptoms

 The month of May can be such a pretty month here in CT.  The weather finally starts to warm up, everything is in bloom, and I can finally plant flowers.  We also celebrate Mother’s Day in May.  This holiday is not easy for me since losing Connor.  I have great memories of my last Spring with Connor.  He went with me to choose the flowers and he helped me plant them too.  So now as I go through this ritual each year, I imagine him with me and can almost feel his presence in the back yard with me.  This Mother’s Day I was determined that I wasn’t going to be sad about missing Connor for a couple of reasons. My daughter Emily is expecting her first baby and my oldest son Tyler just got engaged and now I have a new daughter-in-law to love and cherish in our family!  These are both wonderful things to celebrate and both events I have looked forward to so “No, I will not be sad” I told myself repeatedly. But deep in my heart I was still missing Connor.  These events could not replace my grief over missing Connor. I have come to learn that I can be very happy and still sad at the same time.  In addition, I was not seeing the signs that I was depleted emotionally from repeated conversations about suicide loss due to a new project I was working on.  

My body was telling me to PAY ATTENTION! But my mind was trying to ignore it.  

Here’s what I was experiencing –

  1. Headaches – migraines made worse by that extra glass of wine or 2 I thought would help deal with my extra stress – big mistake!  
  2. Heart Palpitations  I ended up seeing a Cardiologist because I made myself so anxious but in fact I’m totally fine.  
  3. Upset Tummy – We celebrated my daughter’s 28th birthday and that day I was so nauseous, I could not even eat her birthday dinner.   
  4. Fatigue – On Mother’s Day I stayed on the couch until 2pm exhausted in my pajamas.  
  5. Rock Solid Tense Shoulders – I was constantly asking my husband Scott to give me a shoulder massage because of the knots in my shoulders.  
  6. Bitten, sore fingers – I literally tore off my gel nails from my hands.  


I experienced 6 out of the 11 possible symptoms mentioned earlier.  In addition to these, I was constantly arguing with my husband and was easily aggravated.  My physical symptoms were now affecting my life in significant ways   What could I have done differently to avoid this situation? 

Tips for Improving Your Mental Health*

  1. Be Nice to Yourself – When you are feeling down, it is easy to be hard on yourself. While you might not be of the mind to compliment yourself, try being compassionate.  
  2. Exercise -Even taking a short walk or climbing a flight of stairs can reduce stress and increase alertness. A regular exercise routine can boost one’s mood, increase concentration, and even help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.   
  3. Eat Healthy -Vegetables and fruits? Absolutely! Nutritious foods. Sure. Don’t drink 10 cups of anything in a day, unless it’s water. 
  4. Sleep Well –   The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends between 8–10 hours of sleep per night for teenagers and over 7 hours for those ages 20 and up. 
  5. Put the Screens to Bed Before You Go to Bed – Studies have shown that looking at screens before bedtime can affect how quickly you fall asleep and the quality of that sleep. 
  6. Breathe Deep – Just try it. Take in a nice slow breath. Start from your belly; expand through your ribs, chest, and lungs. Breathe out just as slowly. Counting can help (“1, 2, 3, 4, 5 …”) Repeat.  
  7. Connect with Others – Friends, family, pets…even a casual friendly hello to a stranger can boost positive feelings, help ward off depression and anxiety, and make you feel that you are connected to others. 
  8. Write Down Ways to Relax – Relaxing is one of those things that’s easy to say and harder to do. Unwinding and staying calm can take practice. Write down a list of ideas for positive ways that you can de-stress
  9. Find Support (and Be Supportive) – If you or someone you know is struggling, find support. This might be a friend or a family member. Or it could be reaching out to a counselor, a primary care doctor, or a mental health professional
  10. Take Small Steps – If you try to do everything at once, you will probably get nowhere. Set goals, and then draw that dotted line from point A to B to C. Stop and rest along the way. You will thank yourself for it.   
  11. Be Nice to Yourself – Yes, we already said that. But it is worth repeating.  

Doing better now –

This past week I have been better about putting these tips into practice and I have noticed a difference in my overall health.  I have spent some time reflecting.  I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes.  I’ve enjoyed nice walks with the dogs and stopped to listen to the birds as they call to each other.  I’ve been more intentional about eating and sleeping.  I have taken some time to journal which I find very helpful in processing my thoughts and emotions.  I’ve been kinder to myself and it’s helping.   I’ve decided to ask for help too.  I’m reaching out to my therapist again and I’m reaching out to God – my source of hope.  

 The next time you get that nagging headache or feel your shoulders around your ears, stop for a minute and pay attention to what else is going on.  Maybe It’s time to evaluate your mental health and take some steps to improve it.  We are all on this journey of life together and whatever small steps we can take to improve along the way is a win!  Most of all, be nice to yourself and others.  

If you need help – please find a list of resources at  How to Get Help | Honor Connor | Suicide Prevention


Picture of Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson

Founder & Manager Director

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