We all know that therapy can be incredibly beneficial for managing mental health issues. But did you know that elements of counseling may help prevent chronic diseases?
According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year in the United States. Many of these diseases are linked to lifestyle risk factors, including poor diet (full of trans fats, sugar, and other processed foods), lack of physical activity, smoking, excessive alcohol/drug consumption, and chronic stress.
The good news is that psychotherapy can help individuals identify and address lifestyle risk factors. As a result, mental health therapy can potentially prevent the development of chronic diseases (that result from lifestyle risk factors). In this article, we’ll explore how lifestyle choices affect your health and how therapy can help prevent both mental disorders and chronic diseases.
What Lifestyle Risk Factors Lead to Chronic Diseases?
It’s no secret that lifestyle plays a significant role in our health. Researchers have repeatedly proven that healthy lifestyle choices such as frequent physical activity, avoiding smoking, eating a diverse diet full of fresh minimally-processed foods, and engaging in regular social rhythms can have a real potential for improving your psychological well-being (Velten et al., 2018). What’s more, healthy lifestyle practices are associated with a higher sense of life purpose (Hirooka et al., 2021), and improvements in health-related lifestyle habits can increase your perception of purpose in life (Kinoshita et al., 2020).
But did you also know that health-related lifestyle habits can also play a significant role in preventing diseases and promoting your health?
The truth is that many chronic diseases can be traced back to poor lifestyle choices (which can become chronic habits). That’s why it’s important to be aware of certain risk factors that lead to developing chronic diseases. Based on the report from the National Environmental Public Health Tracking, here are some of the major risk factors associated with chronic diseases:
- Lack of physical activity – A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a range of health problems, including heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. However, about ⅓ of US adults report not engaging in any leisure-time physical activity or exercise.
- Excessive alcohol consumption – Drinking too much alcohol can lead to liver disease, cancer, and heart disease. Still, drinking alcohol is considered one of the most common leisure activities and adults often engage in binge drinking.
- Lack of sleep – Sleep deprivation can disrupt the body’s hormones and metabolism. As a result, you might develop various chronic diseases. For example, lack of sleep can cause chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, and changes in your appetite.
- Smoking Cigarettes– Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, and it is a major risk factor for lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke, among other health problems.
- Chronic stress – Chronic stress has been linked to numerous health issues, including heart disease, depression, and anxiety. The reason is that prolonged exposure to stress hormones can increase inflammation and damage blood vessels (Liu, Want & Jiang, 2017).
How Do Your Lifestyle Choices Affect Your Mental Health?
Your everyday routine can impact both your physical and mental health. For example, individuals who have an unhealthy diet or engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse are at a higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. In addition, the aforementioned risk factors can worsen existing mental health conditions.
On the other hand, living with untreated mental disorders can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors and habits such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking, which are all, in turn, risk factors for chronic diseases. For instance, according to Associate Professor Felice Jacka, people with mental disorders are more likely to start smoking than those without mental health issues.
Fortunately, psychotherapy can help individuals address both their mental health and lifestyle risk factors and contribute to preventing the development of chronic diseases. While different types of therapies have a different focus, most therapeutic practices aim to help individuals identify their negative thoughts and behaviors and develop healthier coping mechanisms to manage stress and anxiety.
How Therapy Can Help Prevent Diseases of Lifestyle?
Most of the time, when people think about ways to prevent developing diseases, they might focus on exercise and healthy eating habits. Of course, living in a healthy way is undoubtedly a beneficial way to prevent the worsening of your health, but rarely do people acknowledge how helpful therapy can be in avoiding diseases of lifestyle.
A common idea about counseling is that it’s a tool for managing mental health issues. But since mental health issues are closely intertwined with your physical well-being, it makes sense that therapy can also play a role in preventing chronic diseases by carefully examining lifestyle habits and reflecting on daily behaviors–and working to make necessary changes.
Licensed therapists can help individuals identify the root causes of unhealthy behaviors and help people work to overcome them. During the therapy process, clients work on building resilience and developing adaptive strategies to deal with life’s challenges. This, in turn, can reduce the need for self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, drinking, or drug abuse.
Let’s discuss some of the ways therapy can help prevent the development of lifestyle diseases.
Helping individuals develop healthier habits
While some people find it easy to work on themselves and develop adaptive everyday routines, others struggle to establish healthier habits. Receiving therapy can be an effective way to develop a healthy lifestyle for those who find it challenging to make positive changes.
The main reason why therapy can be beneficial for lifestyle diseases is that counselors provide a supportive and non-judgmental space for individuals to explore the underlying reasons for their unhealthy habits. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify negative thought patterns and beliefs that may be contributing to their unhealthy behaviors. Most therapists utilized CBT as the basis for their eclectic approach to counseling.
Besides, therapists can guide individuals to develop a well-rounded approach to their overall health and well-being.
Teaching stress management techniques
Believe it or not, one of the most common risk factors for developing chronic illnesses is stress. But how exactly does stress contribute to these health problems?
When you experience stress, your body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Over time, the chronic activation of this stress response can weaken your immune system and damage your organs and tissues (Mariotti, 2015).
This is not to mention the fact that stress can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as overeating, lack of physical activity, or smoking. As a result, chronic stress can have a significant impact on the onset of illnesses.
Considering this, receiving therapy might be an optimal solution to overcome excessive levels of stress and prevent the development of chronic diseases. During counseling, therapists teach their clients various techniques, such as relaxation exercises, deep breathing, and mindfulness to acknowledge the source of their stress and overcome it. Studies show that specific types of therapies, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can decrease stress levels and promote well-being (Wersebe et al., 2017).
Take Action: Seek Therapy Services for Prevention
Psychotherapy can actually help prevent both mental health illnesses and diseases of lifestyle. No one doubts that physical exercise and healthy eating habits are crucial to maintaining good health. However, it’s equally important to consider the impact of mental health on overall well-being. If you believe that you are experiencing physical health issues due to risky behavioral choices or unhealthy habits, it is important to consult a licensed physician and even a dietitian to work to address the direct effects that these issues are having on your body. In addition, it is recommended that you get into counseling to help find ways to prevent unhealthy habits and behaviors.
At Health for Life Counseling, we believe that prevention is key when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you’re ready to take proactive steps and take control of your health, reach out to our licensed counselors at our offices in Grand Rapids, MI, or Ada, MI, or talk to us online. With our experienced therapists, you can get your lifestyle back on track and take control of your health. So, take action today and seek therapy for prevention!