The importance of physical health has long been known, and people do not hesitate to take the necessary steps to maintain optimal physical health, but the same cannot be said about mental health. People do not realize that mental wellness also needs to be nurtured and nourished, and lifestyle changes and goals need to be set to prevent one from going down the route of mental illness.
What is mental health?
When we talk about mental health, we talk about three aspects of our lives: emotional, psychological, and social health. When all three are in equilibrium, we will be able to go about our day-to-day activities, relate to people, make decisions in our personal and professional lives, and find new ways and means to cope with the stressors life throws at us. We are then said to be in a state of mental wellness.
What is mental health illness?
Mental health illness is a health condition that results when your mood, thinking, and behavior get affected and interfere with your ability to conduct your day-to-day activities. They could range from anxiety disorder and depression to more severe psychotic disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Mental illness can affect you at any stage of life:
Suppose you find yourself in a situation where your mood is low; in that case, you are anxious all the time, and you find it challenging to perform your daily routine in a positive frame. This in itself does not signify that you have a mental illness; it could just be that you need more coping skills to deal with the stressors in your life. It is the best time to approach a mental healthcare professional for your support.
How can I improve my mental health?
Whether you have a mental illness or not, it is essential to take care of your mental wellness in the same manner as you take care of your physical health.
1. Healthy Lifestyle
The first step to a healthy mind is to opt for a healthy lifestyle which includes regular physical activity, a nutritious diet, and adequate sleep.
It is already known that physical exercise improves several health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis. Research has proven that doing regular exercise has psychological benefits along with physical health benefits. People exercising regularly have shown improved mood and easing of symptoms of anxiety. The exact mechanism is unclear, but it is believed that feel-good endorphins are released during physical exercise, promoting a sense of wellness and confidence.
There is an evident connection between food choices and overall health. Food choices also affect your mood and mental health. In a study on American Diet, the author Courtney Walker says, “Studies have shown that unhealthy diets affect the brain as well as the body. Diets high in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates are associated with greater incidences of depression, depressive symptoms, and anxiety. In older adults, an unhealthy diet is associated with a smaller left hippocampus, a brain structure associated with learning, memory, and mood regulation. It is thought to play a role in depression.”
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, say a healthy, balanced diet should include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy
- Lean protein
- Limited amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar
Sleep has become a casualty of our fast-paced lives. People seem to think it is a waste of time. Modern life throws a lot of stress at you, and a night of good sleep can compensate for the fallout of stress and help you recover from mental exertion. This does not mean that getting more sleep is a quick fix to mental illness, but improving sleep quality and quantity is vital for maintaining mental wellness. Give your body a consistent sleep routine, and it will return the favor with an increased sense of well-being and positive mood.
Sleep and mental health go hand in hand. Sleep deprivation can affect your mood and your mental health. Many people with mental health problems are seen to have insomnia or other sleep disorders. It is essential to consult a doctor to address both sleep and mental health concerns in such cases.
2. Avoiding alcohol and drugs:
Alcohol and drugs can worsen anxiety and depression. Long-term alcohol use problems and acute alcohol withdrawal are associated with increased anxiety levels. Drugs and alcohol disturb the balance of chemicals in your brain, thus interfering in your ability to think, evaluate, and make decisions. While going through a tough time, it may be tempting to use these substances to help cope with the situation. However, they worsen the situation in the long term, adding to your mental health woes.
3. Connecting with others:
Good social bonds go a long way in promoting your well-being and mental health. Studies have shown that healthy social relationships with family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers reduce stress and improve your mental, emotional, and physical health. Secure emotional bonds help you develop trust and self-esteem. It is essential to take time out to build strong relationships that support you when you are down and act as a buffer when you are anxious or having a low mood. Seek social support when you need it, and spend time with those you love.
4. Stress management and developing coping skills:
Stress is a part of everyday life, and it is a method of coping with new challenges, avoiding danger, and adjusting to situations out of your comfort zone. It is meant to alert you to focus better and perform better. But chronic stress can leave you drained and close to burnout. Self-care practices and behavioral modification can keep stress at bay. Stress management techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga are time-tested ways to beat stress.
The practice of deep thinking and focusing on your thoughts, gathering them, and organizing them ultimately gives you a feeling of relaxation and inner peace. There is a growing body of research to support that. “Meditation is an important tool that can support us during those stressful periods,” says Kelley Green, a mindfulness coach based in Brooklyn, New York. “Grounding ourselves through our breath can bring calmness and peace to our mind instead of letting the outside world take control of our emotions and feelings.”
Relaxation techniques promote a relaxed response which is the opposite of a stress response. Here, the breathing rate is reduced, the heart beats slower, and the blood pressure decreases. The different types of relaxation techniques are:
- Progressive Relaxation
- Autogenic Training
- Guided Imagery
- Biofeedback-Assisted Relaxation
- Breathing Exercises
c. Other stress management techniques like yoga and massage therapy are also effective for relaxation. Pursuing sports and other hobbies and interests are active stress busters.
Being supportive of yourself goes a long way in managing stress. It means you take a realistic view of your strengths and weaknesses and choose to honor yourself despite your imperfections. You must keep a positive attitude and accept that circumstances in life will be outside your control. Accept that you cannot do all the things all the time and seek to do only so much as your time and energy permit. Accept that you will not be perfect all the time and show compassion to yourself when others do not.
People have mental health concerns from time to time. A mental health concern becomes a mental illness when you have to deal with continued stress that affects your ability to function, and it causes problems in your work and your relationships. At such times, opting for the services of a mental health provider is the best recourse.
Having said that, mental health needs to be cared for daily, and self-care practices should be in place to cope with stressful situations, especially since life stressors and obligations are not going to go away. These practices start with a healthy lifestyle, avoiding substance abuse, and establishing supportive relationships. It ends with reflecting within ourselves to find out our wellness needs with the help of relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, and other relaxation practices. This self-preservation technique will keep us safe and mentally strong to deal with the vicissitudes of life. Taking time out to fulfill our mental health needs can be challenging at first and will need a lot of dedication and perseverance.
CME4LIFE uses technology to unravel the complexities and vagaries of the medical field in an informative, practical, and easy-to-absorb way. It offers learning solutions for Physician Assistants (PA), Nurse Practitioners (NP), Physicians (MD), Registered Nurses (RN), EMT/Paramedics, and other medical professionals. Assimilate and retain information considerably shorter than traditional courses with CME4LIFE learning tools.