Why patients should prioritize emotional health

Clinical professionals understand that emotional health, mental health and physical well being are intertwined. But it's not always clear how each element affects a patient. Physical ailments can cause unforeseen complications in a patient's mental state or, similarly, cause the patient to experience a downward turn in their emotional state. Doctors and nurses can work with patients during the treatment process to help them manage their emotional health and recover more quickly.

Evidence of the mind and body connection
Most people know that a negative emotional state, no matter what the cause, can have a correlating effect on the way one feels physically. For instance, feeling depressed can make a person lethargic and less likely to engage in physical activity and other healthy behaviors. A study of older adults, conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester, found a discernible link between past and present mental and physical states of health. The study showed that better past mental health increased present physical health. Likewise, participants with better past physical health had better present mental health.

Emphasizing emotional and mental health practices in a care setting could, therefore, have a lasting impact on overall patient health. Habits formed throughout life can help patients better understand the connection between how they feel emotionally and physically.

Feelings of pessimism can lead to poor emotional health.Feelings of pessimism can lead to poor emotional health.

What is emotional health?
In essence, emotional health is how well a person can handle stressful situations. The American Psychological Association explained that resilience and hardiness are key factors of emotional health. People who are able to withstand stress are more likely to be happy, successful and healthy. Emotional health, therefore, is most commonly associated with optimism. Mental health, on the other hand, may be affected by emotional health - but other factors such as brain chemistry may also play a role.

Emotional health in the recovery phase
Recovering from a serious ailment or injury can be as emotionally exhausting as it is physically. A study published in Patient Education and Counseling found that a majority of long-term prostate cancer survivors want more information about how to cope with the side effects of their treatment. Also, 27 percent of respondents said they would like information on emotional problems resulting from the treatment. Clinicians should be cognizant of this need for information when speaking with patients in recovery. Information from multiple sources could help them manage their emotional well being.

The connection between emotional health and physical recovery isn't limited to chronic illness. A study published in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery reported that patients with poor emotional health may perceive their condition as worse and actually experience more pain as a result.

The importance of emotional health
During patient consultations, doctors should consider putting a greater emphasis on emotional health. A study published in Preventative Medicine backed up the connection between emotional, mental and physical health. It discovered that not only is a higher level of physical activity associated with better mental health, it can also lead to fewer depressive symptoms and less anxiety.

Treating patients involves more than merely curing the physical symptoms of an ailment. By focusing on the mental and emotional consequences of illness, clinicians may be able to help patients recover faster and better maintain their health in the future.

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