Many years ago, I read an article that examined longevity and quality of life. A particular centenarian was asked about his secret to a long and happy life. His reply was unforgettable: "Keep your bowels empty and your mind full." Crude as this may sound, it contains a wealth of wisdom. The more we know about the wonders of the human body and the mind, the more we marvel at the intricate connection between the two. It stands to reason that the care we give to our bodies has an impact on our brain functioning and mental health.
Speaking of mental health, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States is ranked at the top when it comes to profits according to a Fortune 500 survey. No one wants to struggle with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, and there are numerous medications formulated to treat these problems. There are individuals who truly benefit from taking psychotropic medications and rely on these to feel better and function successfully. It is not my intention to discount the need for medication with this population. I work with clients in this situation; but, others may be experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety that could be self induced. My goal is to raise awareness about ordinary day-to-day choices and how they could be adversely impacting mood and functioning. Care given to our physical bodies affects our mental health, so it makes sense to examine our lifestyle choices for areas where a modification could avert the need for medication. These lifestyle choices include ordinary things like the foods we eat, the quality of sleep we get, and the amount of physical activity we engage in.
Our physical bodies are amazingly complex and require a variety of foods from all the food groups and adequate hydration to function properly. Multivitamins and various supplements can also be beneficial. Your doctor can make recommendations about this. An informative online resource is www.choosemyplate.gov. Foods we ingest affect brain chemistry which can influence mood. A diet lacking in needed nutrients and fiber can have adverse effects on the body, mental functioning and mood.
The use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drugs can impact energy level, quality of sleep, mental functioning, mood, etc. Caffeine use is a growing trend in our country among all ages. Caffeine in the form of coffee and tea beverages, sodas such as colas and Mountain Dew, and energy drinks such as Red Bull are popular. As commonplace and socially acceptable as these libations are, the caffeine they contain is a drug. Caffeine can supply temporary energy and mental alertness, but too much can cause feelings of agitation, restlessness and anxiety. If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine or drink it later in the day, there is a good possibility it will also rob you of needed sleep at night. If you are already prone to having anxiety problems, caffeine and poor sleep are two things you should do your best to avoid.
Speaking of sleep, ensuring that we get enough is another important self-care strategy that cannot be underestimated. Most adults need seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night. Without adequate sleep, we become physically fatigued, mentally sluggish, irritable, easily stressed, and more prone to feelings of depression and anxiety. Problems with sleep are very common, but there are some strategies you can try to help yourself get needed rest. An informative online resource is www.sleepassociation.org .
In addition to good nutrition and adequate sleep, physical activity is necessary for healthy bodies and minds. Our bodies were made to move and the virtues of frequent exercise have been touted for years. In addition to the physical benefits of better health and fitness, exercise improves mental alertness, increases energy, dissipates stress, promotes a sense of wellbeing and self esteem and is also beneficial to alleviate feelings of anxiety or depression. An exercise tracking resource is available at www.myfinesspage.com.
Other physiological things that could be affecting your mental health and mood include thyroid dysfunction and the hormonal changes of premenstrual syndrome or menopause. Talk to your doctor if you feel any of these conditions could be occurring.
The strategies below focus more on nurturing your mind and are just as important for living a balanced, happy life.
Reduce anxiety and stress by developing a workable routine for daily and weekly tasks (mealtimes, rising and bedtimes, housekeeping chores, etc.).
Schedule in time for recreation (hobbies, relaxation, socializing, vacations).
Spend time nurturing close relationships with others (family, friends, etc.).
Adopt an attitude of gratitude about life. Be thankful for what you have and avoid focusing on what is lacking.
Keep things in perspective.
Challenge yourself with something different or unfamiliar like a new hobby, a new skill, taking a class or researching an area of interest.
Invest in the lives of others through volunteering, mentoring, etc.
Draw upon your spiritual resources for meaning and a sense of purpose and hope.
Learn and practice good communication skills and conflict resolution.
Keep a healthy sense of humor.
Have you identified any areas mentioned in this article that could be problematic for you and your overall wellbeing? If so, you may be able to make lifestyle changes that will ease or eliminate the problem. Making small, incremental changes to address any lack or excess may be all that is needed. These gradual changes are more likely to produce better, long-lasting results. In addition to doctors, mental health professionals and other specialists, there are lots of resources online if you need assistance making changes or if your issues seem unrelated to anything mentioned above. Medication can be beneficial but may not be needed if changes you can make are the key to improved mental health.