Why is it that we associate change with a New Year? Change, even drastic changes, can occur any time we want them to….we don't have to wait until a new year comes around! Change is hard for everyone. A lot of times we don’t know how or what to change and the fear of the unknown pushes that change further away. Sometimes the change means letting go of something we love, an addiction we have, or living a completely different lifestyle.
Most New Year’s resolutions are related to our physical health: joining a gym, losing weight, or a healthier diet. But what about our mental health? Mental health is essential to our lives and is an intricate part to our physical health. How we interact with our loved ones, how we feel about ourselves, how productive we are at work. Our thoughts and emotions are a good portion of our daily living that controls much of our decisions about how we physically take care of ourselves.
So, if you are reading this and thinking your focus should be more your mental health instead of your physical health, then here are a few ideas.
Don’t Diet but Accept Yourself - A lot of people make strict dieting and weight loss goals. What ends up happening is the exact opposite, this adds stress, and these stresses of the pressure to succeed are not healthy. Social media can also have a huge impact on these stresses when it comes to the way you look and feel about yourself, and can have a very negative impact on changing your thought process when trying to be more accepting of who and what you are. It is very easy to get caught up in other people’s lives and the image of what “they have” vs. what “you have.” This only adds to the already negative idea of poor body image that may already exist. Poor body image is linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. People, who respectfully appreciate their bodies, tend to have better mental health, sexual functioning, and happier romantic relationships. So if your goal is trying to get a better body image of yourself, work on self-acceptance of who and what you are, instead of focusing on society’s expectations and falling for the unrealistic “social norm “ of being thin.
Eat More Greens and Take Care of your Gut – I am no doctor but I have been told over and over again by doctors and have read many studies that link your gut health to your mental health…and physical. Nutrition first and foremost, should be done for the mental health benefit. People who consume more fruit and vegetables have lower levels of depression. Improvements to your diet over time, such as a balance of vegetables, fruits, and proteins can improve your mental health. Eating greens and vegetables in the broccoli family may even help slow cognitive decline such as dementia.
Social Connections – Social isolation is a predictor of early death and according to some studies, it can increase premature death by 14%. “The impact of loneliness on premature death is nearly as strong as the impact of disadvantaged socioeconomic status, which they found increases the chances of dying early by 19%. In an unexpected finding, the researchers found that loneliness has doubled the impact of obesity on early death.” (3) So making new social connections improves mental health, it can help us learn to cope with stress better and reduce depression and/or anxiety. Joining a group that is connected with your interests is a good place to start.
Move – I don’t mean move to a new home/town, or place….I mean MOVE YOUR BODY!! There have been many studies done on physical activity and how it helps decrease mental health issues. The main focus on physical activity is not putting a time limit on it, or a weight loss goal, but to set a goal to move at least 3-4 times a week. Going for a walk around the block, taking your dog for a walk, it does not have to involve intense cardio workout to reap the benefits of stress relief. Identify an activity that you find enjoyable. That will help with your motivation to move. Exercise that does any of these things is going to be easier to commit to than exercise done with the goal of improving appearance.
Reduce Screen Time – As I mentioned earlier, the expectations that society puts on us that create unrealistic requirements “to be of worth” come from many social media areas. Our lives are inundated with social media and our phones have become another child that takes too much of our attention. Screen time has become a popular way of connecting with others. Not only is this less real then a face to face relationship with someone, but it creates the opportunity for us to compare us to our “friends list.” When this happens, depression can easily kick in as thoughts of not having what you want, not being as successful as you hoped and seeing one of your friends that have, or not looking a certain way, all comes into the negative focus of self-loathing. This is very dangerous, and creates a decrease in self-worth almost immediately. Also, watching any screen before bed can create bad sleeping habits, and can decrease good REM sleep patterns as our brains are being over-stimulated right as we need to be relaxing for sleep.
Ask for Help - Unfortunately our world has created a negative stigma on asking for help of any kind. We are all humans and at one point or another we need that extra support. Everyone deals with life’s stressors and can be affected by them with anxiety or depression. We often look the other way when mental health problems exist, and pretend they are not there, or assume “we got this” in reality, they are just part of who we are, and asking for help does not mean that you are a lessor or weaker person. I really believe the weakness lies in those who don’t ask for help, who believe there is no such thing as mental health, and if you have any issues, you are crazy or broken. Finding the right therapist who you feel comfortable and safe with is the key to success, as this provides a platform where you can be open, honest, and find solutions to the things that are overwhelming your life. There is nothing to be ashamed of. The truth is we all need help sometimes, and the smart, healthy choice is to seek it out.
If you have taken the time to read this I hope it has been helpful in your journey finding a better you, by accepting you for you, and understanding what tools may be out there to help you to achieve that goal. There is no health without mental health.
Below are some links that support these topics – it is good stuff and interesting!
The gut-brain connection: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
Eight things that can happen to you when you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables: https://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/eat-more-fruits-veggies/
Maintaining Healthy Social Connections Improves Well Being: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/maintaining-healthy-social-connections-improves-well-being