When we think about our health, what are the first things we think about? For most of us, we think about diet, exercise, about our bodies, about illness, and injury. However, more and more we’re learning to spare a thought for the old thought-box as well. Mental health issues such as depression, stress, anxiety, and such have been with us forever, but we’re starting to take notice of them more and more and figuring out not only the far-reaching harmful effects they have but how we can take better care of ourselves.
Finding your peace
Stress is perhaps the most common kind of mental difficulty we all face at one point or another. Finding yourself stressed from time to time isn’t an indicator that you’re in emotional turmoil. In certain circumstances, a little stress can be seen as a positive motivating force. However, when it starts to become more frequent, and when it starts to spread from the original sources to the other areas in your life, it’s time to take a step back and address whether there’s a wider issue. Making use of stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, aromatherapy, and even finding a hobby can help us all keep better control over ourselves. After all, stress doesn’t just affect your mood but makes real contributions to issues like heart disease, too.
The mind-body connection
The link between depression and heart disease is just one way that medical science has proven that the mind-body connection is very real. Depression and anxiety similarly share some of these links to the rest of your body. But that link works in reverse, as well. A poor lack of exercise can be big contributors to mental and emotional trouble. On the flip side, becoming more active has been shown to fight many aspects of mental health issues as well. For instance, if dealing with stress, finding a fun exercise you can make a habit out of has been shown to promote not only the greater production of endorphins that elicit a better mood but can block the stress hormone known as cortisol.
I eat, therefore I am
As always, where exercise is recommended, a better diet must also be recommended. There have been real links between a lot of foods and mental health. For instance, some of the most commonly available foods that can contribute to depression include refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and foods with high sodium counts. On the other hand, there are foods that can improve your mental health, too. Omega-3 fatty acids, found most conveniently in fatty fish, improves the production of important neurotransmitters. Mental health issues aren’t just a result of life events or “moods”, but have a complicated relationship with the chemistry of our brain. We are what we eat, so it only makes sense that we can improve our brain through diet, not just the rest of our bodies.
A good night’s sleep
The true importance of sleep is only really beginning to be understood by the medical community at large. Recently, a lack of sleep has been shown to be perhaps the second largest contributor to obesity, just behind a poor diet and even supposedly more of a contribution than low levels of activity. A full night’s sleep has as many links to mental health, regulating producing of the neurotransmitters mentioned above. But it’s stated that not only can the right length of sleep improve our mental health. Waking up at the right time in our sleep cycle can be just as important to waking up refreshed and less stressful, with sleep calculators being developed to help us do exactly that.
Clearing the system
We pick up a lot of habits over a lifetime and some of them aren’t too harmful to us or harmful at all. However, addiction of all kinds is becoming both a cause and a side-effect of mental health issues. If we are fixated on harmful substances to the point that it compromises our judgement and ability to think clearly, it only makes sense that it can have lingering mental health effects. Whether it’s quitting smoking with the help of nicotine patches or using recovery centers to fight more serious addictions, substance addiction has to be fought for the sake of better mental health. Of course, there are behavioral addictions that can be just as dangerous, including addiction to gambling or pornography. But the links between smoking, alcohol, caffeine, and illegal drug addiction and declining mental health are beyond well-documented nowadays.
Finger on the trigger
Mental health isn’t an ever-present issue, either. Many of us can get on with the day-to-day with little problem until something can seem to almost instantaneously set us off. These emotional triggers are very real. Once associated primarily with PTSD, it’s been shown that there exist triggers to stress, episodes of depression, panic attacks, substance abuse and much more. Emotional triggers are relatively normal, and we might not be able to get rid of them. By recognizing and adapting to them, however, we can often stop them from having such a detrimental effect and as much control in our behavior.