May is Mental Health Month. Mental Health America started Mental Health Month in 1949, and it is now the most highly recognized mental health awareness event in the nation.
As a member of the mental health community, diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, I have become a major advocate not only for ending the negative stigma associated with mental health disorders, but also for improving the world’s overall mental health. Whether you are diagnosed with a lengthy list of conditions and spend large portions of your week in various therapies and taking large amounts of medications, or you are a seemingly “happy” person who has never once looked at your mental health insurance coverage, I think that you can benefit from mental health awareness and general self-care. Healthy bodies breed healthy minds, and the following four areas are all ways you can keep both your body and mind functioning well.
- Be mindful of what you are putting into your body.
We all know that a poor diet can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. Did you know that it can also cause a greater risk of depression? Research has shown that a diet that consists of high amounts of of processed, fried, and sugary foods can increase the risk of developing depression by as much as 60%. This is because our diet is directly linked to our hippocampus, a key area of the brain involved in learning, memory, and mental health. There have also been studies about the negative impact of large amounts of caffeine, especially caffeine from soda. Caffeine only provides a temporary boost in energy, and leaves us feeling low afterwards.
Personally, I find that on days that I try to drink the recommended amount of water (2.7 liters for the average adult female), try to eat vegetables and fruits, and make most of my food, I tend to feel a lot better about my day and my life in general. Though sometimes I do also feel better after a slice of pizza or a bowl of ice cream, but I take all things in moderation.
2. Be mindful of how much exercise you are getting
Let’s be real: Even with my Fitbit constantly reminding me to move more, I fail at this one! Exercise does the body good in so many ways, and we need to keep that in mind. Poor exercise can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some forms of cancer. Regular exercise increases several substances that impact brain function, endorphins (which not only help reduce pain and stress but also boost our mood when released during intense exercise), serotonin (which your body needs to send messages about appetite, sleep, and mood), dopamine (Low dopamine can potentially been linked to depression, schizophrenia, and psychosis in addition to playing a large role in addictions), and GABA (Low GABA has been linked to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mood disorders).
We don’t all need to be serious athletes or track stars, but it is important to keep movement in mind, especially when we find ourselves feeling low. It doesn’t have to be a lot of exercise or excessively intense, either: Just one hour of exercise per week has been shown to reduce levels of mood disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse.
3. Be mindful of your sleep patterns
Sleep plays such an important role in our physical and emotional health, yet we often find ourselves cutting it out in order to increase our productivity. Cutting sleep actually can have the opposite effect, though, so it’s rather senseless for us to do that. Sleep impacts our mood, our ability to learn and retain memories, our metabolism, and also our immune system. 7-9 hours is the recommended amount of sleep for adults, but just getting the hours in isn’t enough; you need to make sure that the sleep you are getting is quality sleep. Poor quality of sleep can increase the risk of negative mental health such as psychosis, manic episodes, paranoia, anxiety, and depression.
I know that when I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation, one of the things that the caregivers stressed was building good sleep hygiene and developing a nightly routine in order to help my body prepare for sleep. There are studies about room temperature, lighting, sound, and other sleep conditions, but there is also lots of information out there about what you should be doing even 2-3 hours before your planned bedtime. If you struggle with sleep at all, consider researching sleep hygiene further to improve both your sleep and your overall health.
4. Be mindful of your environment
Stress is a common part of life, and there’s no perfect answer or advice I can give you for creating a stress-free life. There are always ways to reduce your stress and cope with stress in your life, though, and that is the key part that many of us are missing. The first and foremost consideration is to look at your daily environment and see what you can improve. Remove clutter and surround yourself with things that make you happy, such as photographs or artwork. Also, be cautious of the types of people you spend time around and think about how you treat those you interact with in order to work towards a more harmonious environment. Personally, I have had to start reminding myself to be realistic in what I expect of myself. I am not perfect; I will never be Superwoman. Nobody is. I also have to remind myself that I can only really do one thing at a time and that multitasking is not helpful and is a quick path to disaster. My other suggestions are to get a hobby (writing has become mine), try meditation or breathing exercises, and find a healthy way to vent when needed. I think mindfulness practice is a great way to cope with stress and improve our outlook, and I’ve greatly enjoyed learning about it through my adventures with dialectical behavior therapy.
Mental health is an important area of our lives and we need to be mindful of how we care for ourselves. I can personally attest that several of these suggestions have impacted my life for the positive (I’m 84 days self-harm free and without active suicidal ideation). Mental health is important to all of us, and without proper self-care, we cannot function at all, let alone well, as our lives move full-speed.
If you want to find more information about Mental Health America or join the #4mind4body movement this Mental Health May, you can visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net or find them on social media.
Featured Photo via Pexels.