Mental health is much like physical health — in order to maintain it, you have to pay attention to it. Most people know how to take care of a physical wound or address an illness. But many people don’t know how to build and maintain good mental health.
And good mental health is important. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that “there is no health without mental health.” Poor mental health makes you more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, or stroke. Loneliness can increase your risk of dying before your time by as much as 14 percent.
While psychotherapy and medication are important ways to recover your mental health if you’re suffering from mental illness symptoms, even people who aren’t experiencing overt symptoms can benefit from taking care to safeguard their mental health. The more time you devote to eating right, doing meaningful work, practicing good emotional hygiene, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep, the less likely you’ll be to develop mental illness symptoms in the future.
Medications like Seroquel and Abilify can help correct chemical imbalances in the brain that lead to mental illness, but you’d be surprised at how much good simply eating a healthy diet can do. Just like other parts of your body, your brain needs proper nutrition to function.
Most experts recommend the Mediterranean diet for optimum physical and mental health — the olive oil, fatty fish, seeds, and nuts in this diet contain plenty of the omega-3 fatty acids your brain needs. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet not only extends lifespan, but also improves cognitive function and boosts mental health.
You should also make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. According to the results of a 2014 study published in the journal BMJ Open, eating your five servings of daily fruits and vegetables can boost feelings of mental well-being. The study involved 14,000 adults, and found that 35.5 percent of those who ate the recommended five daily portions of vegetables and fruits reported signs of good mental health, compared to just 6.8 percent of those who ate only one portion a day.
Practice Good Emotional Hygiene
Emotional hygiene is the practice of taking care of yourself emotionally and psychologically. It involves safeguarding your self-esteem to protect against emotional setbacks, resisting rumination and negative self-talk, and taking steps to heal psychological wounds as soon as they appear. You should pay attention to hurt feelings or bad moods, and take steps to address them if they continue for too long. Guard against feelings of helplessness or a decrease in confidence that can come when you suffer a psychological wound.
Even gentle exercise can have a profound effect on your mental health. Walking outside with a group can help you get the exercise you need, while also helping you forge and nourish social connections and spend time in nature — all three of those things are good for your mental health. Walking is accessible, it’s cheap, and you don’t need to be terribly physically fit to get started.
Other outdoor activities, like gardening, can also help support good mental health. Of course, taking a yoga class, going to the gym, dancing, jogging, swimming, or cycling are all good options, too.
Respond to psychological injuries just as you would physical injuries. By practicing good emotional hygiene, you can recover more quickly from setbacks and maintain a more consistent sense of optimism.
Get Your Beauty Rest
While many people these days tend to think of sleep as optional, it isn’t — and even mild sleep deprivation can increase your chances of developing a mental illness at some point in your life. If you sleep fewer than five hours a night, your risk is particularly high. Set aside plenty of time to sleep — seven to eight hours a night — and encourage a healthy sleep cycle by:
- Going to sleep and getting up at regular times, even on weekends and holidays
- Participating in a soothing bedtime ritual
- Bringing screen time to an end at least an hour before bed
- Avoiding caffeine, sugar, and alcohol at night
- Using the bedroom for only sleeping and sex
You’ll probably sleep best in a slightly cool room. Keep your bedroom dark while you’re sleeping. If you have problems getting to sleep at night, see your doctor about a sleep aid. You can fill your prescriptions cheaply at CanadaDrugPharmacy.com.
While the thought of lounging around all day and not having to work for a living might sound luxurious, if you really did win the lottery, you might be surprised to find that it wouldn’t improve your mental health. That’s because being gainfully employed brings benefits beyond a paycheck. Your job gives you a sense of identity, makes you part of a social network, adds structure to your day, and lets you make valuable contributions to the world. All of those things are important to maintaining your mental health.
But if you’re retired, unemployed, parenting full-time, or otherwise unable to hold down a job, you can still gain the benefits of employment by taking up a hobby or doing volunteer work. Hobbies can help distract you from your worries, and they’re often a good way to make friends and solidify your sense of yourself outside your role as a parent, spouse, or employee. Working with volunteer organizations can have the same benefits, and help you feel like you’re giving back.
Good mental health is just as important as good physical health, and it takes just as much effort to maintain. While you may be working on losing weight, quitting smoking, or other physical goals this year, don’t let your mental health fall by the wayside. Without good mental health, you’ll soon have no health at all.