No Quick Fix for Overall Mental Health
Many people equate the terms "mental health" and "mental illness," assuming both imply the need for psychological treatment. But mental health refers to a broader perspective of an individual's emotional well-being and is something we should all look out for.
"Mental health is an ongoing process determining how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices, and is important at every stage of life," said Joyce Bloom, a practicing psychotherapist in Massachusetts.
A healthy lifestyle includes a network of routines, relationships and strategies to enhance your ability to thrive and cultivate a positive outlook.
Consider therapy as a lifestyle enhancement
In most cases, people seek therapy when they experience a crisis or symptoms of a mental illness. There are many different therapy modalities within the field of psychology. Some variables include whether or not medication is prescribed and whether it's a short- or long-term commitment.
One of the therapy models—psychodynamic psychology—focuses on self-discovery rather than easing symptoms, which takes time and demands a longer commitment. There's controversy as to whether this treatment is relevant in our fast-paced society, but clinicians strongly disagree with this view, highlighting that people cope with multiple stressors every day, relating to relationships, work, family and past traumas. People need time to better understand the nature of their issues. There is no quick fix to gaining self-knowledge, nor should there be.
"Therapy is an important investment in oneself," Bloom said. "It helps to understand and change emotional responses to life events."
Support your social self
Bloom discussed the importance of relationships in helping foster compassion for ourselves and others, which is "vital for positive self-esteem." Friendships and families of choice create the emotional fabric of people's lives and can shape long-term health. People are social by nature, and social connectedness fosters a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
These social connections are created by participating in cultural and creative activities such as theater, music, visual arts and writing. The arts provide a powerful outlet to communicate and express thoughts, ideas and emotions. The healing power of creativity can be a contributing factor to reducing stress, depression and chronic disease.
Feed your body to feed your mind
Eating clean refers to a diet that includes more whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and grains, and eating fewer processed foods, such as packaged snacks and microwavable dinners.
Researchers have studied how eating foods high in added sugar, salt and preservatives affects brain function, and can worsen anxiety and depression. Most people have experienced a sugar high, followed by a sugar crash, but they may not realize that regularly eating highly processed foods can affect their general mood as well.
You can explore how certain foods affect your mental and physical health by trying different methods. Eliminate highly processed and high-sugar foods for two to three weeks, and document how your body and mind react to this dietary change. After this mini-cleanse, slowly introduce some of the eliminated foods back into your diet and take note, once again, of the effects. If you feel low-energy, mentally and/or physically, you might conclude these foods may not be beneficial to your emotional well-being.
Work it out with a workout—and time outdoors
An exercise routine helps you stay in shape and maintain a positive attitude. Increased energy and mental alertness are a couple of the various benefits of regular exercise, which also include weight management and an increased interest in sex.
Spending time in the great outdoors also replenishes your mental resilience. There is scientific proof that stopping to "smell the roses" is an effective and positive intervention for our fast-paced, technology-driven culture. Also, consider exercising with others to build relationships that could additionally be a keystone to your overall health.
Getting a good night's sleep is another positive result of a regular workout routine, and one medical professionals agree is vital to your mental health. Adhering to a regular sleep schedule can help you regularly achieve the optimal seven to nine hours of sleep doctors recommend.
Building a healthy, supportive lifestyle for yourself will take a little time and commitment, but there's almost no more important investment you can make in your life. Be patient with yourself as you begin to prioritize your mental health, and gradually note the changes in your overall well-being.