Mental health plays a big role in a person’s overall well-being. When we are mentally healthy, life is more enjoyable, activities are fun, relationships stay strong and stress can be dealt with more easily.

Q. Can a person’s mental health change?

A. It’s normal for one’s mental health to shift over time due to life circumstances or physical/chemical changes in the brain. The pandemic has shown us the importance of working on our mental health and well-being as the nation has faced, and continues to face, unprecedented challenges.

Does mental health affect physical health?

Yes, the relationship between one’s physical body and mental health is important. Creating positive habits and building skills that support good mental health will help when facing a challenge, including managing a mental health condition.

What types of physical health should I focus on?

The stomach is often called the “second brain,” communicating with the brain physically through nerves and chemically through hormones and neurotransmitters. The stomach is sensitive to emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness and joy. Eating nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, whole grains, nuts and avocados can keep the gut healthy and support a healthy brain.

It’s also important for people to get regular physical activity and good quality of sleep.

Stress is a normal part of life; how can I help manage stress?

A little stress can be motivating to accomplish goals. However, too much stress can have physical effects on the body such as increased blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and blood flow to muscles.

Learning how to manage stress can consist of a small change but can have big, positive impacts on physical and mental health. Set realistic expectations, shed the urge to be a superhero, tackle one task at a time, exercise, vent with a friend, and consider taking a deep cleansing breath or temporarily removing yourself from the stressors to return when feeling calmer.

It is also important to have supportive people whom you can relate to or lean on. Humans are social beings, and our brains are wired to seek connection. A strong support system often prevents mental health issues from becoming unmanageable and can improve overall outcomes when one is recovering from a mental health condition.

Andrew Gardner-Northrop, L.M.S.W., is a clinical social worker and behavioral health therapist supervisor at MyMichigan Health.

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