By Julie Christiansen
Mental health is a concept that refers to a person’s emotional and psychological well-being.
One way to think about mental health is by looking at how effectively and successfully a person functions. Feeling capable and competent – being able to handle normal levels of stress, maintain satisfying relationships, and lead an independent life and being able to “bounce back,” or recover from difficult situations – are all signs of mental health.
Taking care of one’s mental health is no less important than caring for one’s physical health. It’s easy to start making changes that will positively impact your mental health.
- Begin with checking your attitudes. A pervasively pessimistic attitude re-configures the brain’s reticular activation system to be on the lookout for “proof” that life is as horrible as you keep saying it is. All this does is perpetuate feelings of pessimism that can lead to developing symptoms of depression. Begin to re-train your brain by actively looking for positive things that take place throughout your day. Develop an attitude of gratitude, and nurture it daily.
- Be sure to keep your body well nourished, oxygenated, and hydrated. If your brain is malnourished, it follows that your mental processes and cognitions will not function at optimum levels. Balance out your intake of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), and ensure that you are ingesting the daily requirement of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to keep both brain and body healthy.
- Get outside. Take breaks away from your desk during the day and step outside for fresh air. Take your shoes off, and walk in the grass, re-establishing your connection to the earth’s natural frequencies. Breathe deeply to stimulate the expulsion of toxins from your body, and to give your brain a boost. Sit in the sun and soak up some vitamin D. The activation of light and oxygen help to balance out those “feel good” neurotransmitters that help to combat depression symptoms.
- One hundred and fifty minutes of cardio and strength-building exercise per week is recommended to keep the body healthy. Go for walks, ride your bike, skate at an indoor rink, or rollerblade along a groomed trail. Find fun activities that keep you moving and get your heart rate up. Join a yoga studio or take belly-dancing classes. Choose the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little further away from store entrances. Sneak that exercise in wherever you can. Your body and your brain will thank you for it.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Restorative, restful sleep is imperative for tissue regeneration and maintaining brain plasticity. If you are having trouble sleeping, you might be tempted to turn to alcohol or pharmaceuticals to help you get to sleep. Before you go that route, try more natural options such as a warm bath or a hot soothing drink before bed. Melatonin, magnesium, and GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) are natural options that you can take as supplements to help relax and calm your nervous system to help you sleep more deeply. If you are struggling with chronic insomnia, speak to your doctor or naturopath about what you can do to help you get a good night’s sleep.
These simple strategies will help you to achieve and maintain a healthy baseline of mental health. Remember, though, that mental health is on a continuum, and there may be times that you may find yourself feeling anxious or depressed to the point that you are distressed by those emotions. You should then reach out to your family doctor or speak to a counsellor or therapist who can support you in coping with and resolving these issues.
(This article is excerpted from Julie Christiansen’s book, When the Last Straw Falls: 30 Ways to Keep Stress from Breaking Your Back. She is the principal therapist at Julie Christiansen Counselling & Psychotherapy, based in the Niagara Region and is an internationally recognized public speaker, author, and expert on the psychology of anger and stress. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website: www.juliechristiansen.com. )