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The Relationship Between Cognitive Health and Mental Health

cognitive health mental health

When discussing how we can take care of our brains, it can be confusing to differentiate between cognitive health and mental health. These two aspects of brain health are intertwined and can deeply impact each other. When we’re looking to improve cognitive function, it can be helpful to also work on mental health. In this article, we’ll break down the differences, as well as the overlap, between cognitive health and mental health.

What is cognitive health?

Cognitive health refers to our brain functions and the processes that enable us to acquire, process, store, and retrieve information. It encompasses our ability to think, reason, remember, concentrate, make decisions, and complete tasks. Cognitive health is crucial for our daily functioning, learning, problem-solving, and maintaining a good quality of life.

Our cognitive functions include:

  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Processing speed
  • Visual-spatial skills
  • Executive functions
  • Auditory processing
  • Language
  • Social cognition

Our cognitive skills can be impacted by many factors. Medical conditions, injuries, and psychological conditions can cause short-term or long-lasting cognitive impairments. Aging often causes long-lasting cognitive impairments, ranging from very mild to severe. These effects on cognition vary widely between individuals and situations. For example, someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury may have an impairment in memory or attention. Someone who has schizophrenia may experience a deficit in executive functions such as the ability to plan. Someone who has had a stroke may experience deficits in their attention or language skills. These are very few of the countless examples of cognitive conditions and impairments humans can experience.


Additionally, temporary cognitive deficits can occur day to day, from factors such as lack of sleep, overwhelm, or stress. For example, not getting enough sleep may hinder one’s executive functioning and attention skills, while stress can interfere with memory and attention skills.

What is mental health?

Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It encompasses our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, influencing how we perceive and interact with the world. Mental health is dynamic and can change over time. It impacts our ability to cope with stress, handle challenges, and maintain healthy relationships.

 

Key aspects of mental health include:

Emotional well-being

Mental health involves understanding and managing our emotions effectively. This includes experiencing a wide range of emotions and being able to regulate them appropriately.

Psychological well-being

This encompasses our cognitive abilities, self-esteem, resilience, and overall satisfaction with life. Psychological well-being involves having a positive mindset, a sense of purpose, and the ability to adapt to changes and overcome obstacles.

Social well-being

Our mental health is interconnected with our relationships and social interactions. Healthy social connections, support systems, and a sense of belonging contribute to our overall mental well-being.

How do mental health and cognitive health affect each other?

Mental health can greatly affect our cognitive health, and vice versa. Feeling emotionally unwell can lead to cognitive deficits, and cognitive deficits can lead to feeling emotionally overwhelmed and can affect self-image and self-esteem.


As an example of how cognitive health and mental health affect each other, imagine that you are great at playing piano. Then, you experience a stroke. Suddenly you don’t remember how to play as well as you used to, and you’re having trouble paying attention long enough to practice. The frustration from this could cause you to feel depressed and anxious, which affects executive functions and other cognitive skills. Socializing is important for our brain health – so, if the emotions you’re feeling cause you to withdraw socially, this could have further implications for mental health and cognitive health. Hopefully this gives you an idea of how closely linked cognitive health and mental health are, and how crucial it is to take care of both!

Caring for both cognitive health and mental health

The great news is that practices that are good for one tend to be good for the other as well! Here are some self-care practices that support BOTH good mental health and cognitive health.

 

  • Socializing and talking to loved ones
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Eating Omega-3s
  • Getting enough sunlight in your day
  • Getting a full night of sleep every night
  • Exercising
  • Spending time outdoors
  • Managing stress, such as by utilizing mindfulness techniques
  • Exercising your brain (like with digital exercises or worksheets)
  • Taking breaks to avoid burnout

Conclusion

  • Cognitive health refers to our brain’s ability to function, including learning, reasoning, and completing tasks.
  • Mental health refers to our emotional and psychological wellbeing, including our feelings about ourselves and the world around us.
  • Cognitive health and mental health are different, but closely related. They impact each other in many ways.
  • Our mental health and cognitive health are both crucial to our overall wellbeing. We can take steps to care for both of them in our everyday lives.

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