January is Mental Wellness Month. So I thought, being a month dedicated the mental health, and a new year, I would take this time to look at what we should look at if we want to maintain good mental health. Anyone who has met me or worked with Solutions Counseling and Wellness Center knows that I don’t believe that counseling is THE KEY to good mental health. Obviously, since I chose to do that for a career, I believe it can be very helpful. However, there are many things that add up to create and maintain good mental health. These are some of them.
Sleep. We all know that we work better when we get enough sleep. Did you know however, that our bodies are programmed to be awake when it is light and sleep when it is dark? For those of us in Montana, that means that we would sleep much more in the winter than the summer. It also means that those who work night shifts, swing shifts, or rotating shifts are actually adding to their stress levels by forcing their bodies to work on that schedule.
Relationships. We are social and many say “tribal” creatures. We require social interaction both with people and other animals. Emotional Support Animals are becoming more and more prevalent because they actually help mitigate depression and anxiety by their very presence in our lives. Those with larger support and social networks tend to be healthier people with regard to their mental health.
Food. The food we eat can greatly modify our mental health. Did you know that common pesticides when eaten with our food kills the microbes that digest your food and support your good mental health? I strongly encourage all of my clients to eat organic food as much as possible. In addition, a healthy balanced diet provides the nutrients needed to help our brains work properly.
Supplements and Herbs. There are natural supplements easily obtained that work for many as well or better than prescription medications for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. These can be very cost effective as well as health supporting. Many of them support functions other than brain health and your body may be lacking them. By using supplements and herbs, you can provide the support your body needs and decrease or eliminate these symptoms.
Detoxification. Did you know that some people don’t detoxify as well as others? And toxins can very much affect not only your moods, but the very way you think. Sweating is a wonderful way of removing toxins, but if you don’t clean the toxins off your body with a non-toxic cleansing agent, you can reabsorb them through your skin.
Hormones. Seriously, who hasn’t heard someone say “she is just being hormonal” or something similar? We all know about PMS and Menopause for women, but those well-known hormonal imbalances are not the only ones we deal with. And they affect men just as much as women. Unfortunately, with much of our meat supply being provided by giving the animals growth hormone to make them grow, our population is “taking” hormones without even thinking.
Exercise. Some say that exercise is the best anti-depressant there is. Our bodies were made to move. Movement encourages proper function of our bodies in so many ways. It improves blood flow and encourages more oxygen to get to our organs and brains. It releases endorphins which are our “feel good” messengers.
Massage and Body Work. Many people know that if a baby does not have human contact, they can die. Did you realize though that contact helps human health? Massage for example, helps tissues heal and flex but also helps release endorphins, remove toxins, and improve our mental health.
Breath. Breathing seems simple enough, but different breathing techniques can change our moods, outlook, creativity, and energy levels. Slow breathing can help with anxiety. Breathing through one or the other nostril can affect brain use.
Spirituality. Spirituality, faith, and ritual have affected humans probably for as long as humans have existed. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to church, although it can. There are countless spiritual practices all over the world. Finding one that you can embrace can ensure better mental health.
Meditation. I am the first one to say that I am not a natural meditator. I admire those that are. But I do know that meditation can help people in endless ways. It is a practice that in my opinion is more important now than ever in history due to our busy lives. Those days of walking a field behind a horse-pulled plow are long gone for most of us and with them those quiet hours of meditative time.
Genetic. Integrative Medicine is learning that our genetics don’t have to dictate the course of our health. We can encourage or suppress certain genetic predispositions by embracing health habits that either encourage or suppress that gene expression. For example, if you are genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s, you can take steps to maintain your brain health and avoid the expression of it.
As this year begins, you may want to start thinking about those small modifications you can make in your life that can make major changes to your mental health. In the following months, we will provide further information on each of these topics with practical information on how you can do just that.