Mental illness can happen to all of us. Our mental health is affected by normal everyday life just as our physical health is. It’s not extraordinary, it is quite ordinary actually.
With mental illness on the rise despite of an increase in quality of life it is time we accept that mental health can not be taken for granted. Nor is it binary. Our mood or behaviors are mostly normal but sometimes they go on for longer or are more extreme in there presentation to a point which we’ve established as clinical i.e. bad for you.
Staying mentally healthy is a continuous pursuit just as staying physically healthy is. The same goes for our mind as for our bodies. I would like to introduce my three step model for taking care of yourself and your mental health.
Step 1, clean eating and exercise
Regular exercise together with “five a day keeps the doctor away” and we have the general basis for physical wellbeing as well as mental wellbeing. (If you’re not familiar with the five a day campaign it refers to eating five portions of vegetables and fruits per day). I would also recommend staying away from processed foods and foods high in added sugars (cakes, candy, soda etc.). The basis for a healthy mind is definitely a healthy body. There’s no cheating that one. However, a healthy mind doesn’t require the workout regimen or meal plan of a professional athlete. A healthy mind requires more of an “all things in moderation” approach.
Step 2, rest and relaxation
Our bodies need sleep to rebuild so does our mind. If you are going through an emotional hard time you need even more sleep than normal. In 2014 Annual Review of Clinical Psychology published a very interesting article about it. Without sufficient sleep our ability to regulate and express emotions are compromised. This is true for both positive and negative emotions. We can get over sensitive i.e. cranky/hysterical or too numb. A good night sleep (with REM-sleep) gets you back to baseline though. Not sleeping enough or well enough quickly takes its toll. Almost all mood and anxiety disorders coincide with disruptive sleep patterns.
The findings presented are also interestingly linked to PTSD, it is worth checking out.
Most people believe that this is where it stops, that sleep, food and exercise is enough for a healthy life. Looking at physical health that is pretty much true. But when it comes to mental health the third step is really the crucial part. It’s the part that makes life worth living. The part that fills us with joy and happiness, serenity, peace, fulfillment etc.
Step 3, live life
Besides refueling your body with food and sleep you also need to refuel it with joy, if not, life quickly becomes rather meaningless. Most people don’t start out struggling with this, we are more inclined to doing that which we enjoy rather than what’s uncomfortable. However, it tends to be the first thing we stop doing when we’re short on time, which most of us are these days.
We live in a society that’s getting more and more streamlined. For our economy to grow we need to get more for less. Even to maintain status quo we need to always be at a slight increase in productivity, net gross etc. There is no equilibrium, we need to go up or we’re going down. This has been going on for a while and it’s taking its toll on the human capital. We need to be better at what we do and deliver it in less time and it’s getting really hard to stay ahead, especially for an entire career. So yes, we do need to priorities the third step. We need to take guilt free time off to do those things we enjoy the most. And if you’re thinking you’re winning because you love your job and that that’s all you need I’d like to raise a finger in warning. The love for a job is never unconditional. You may love your job but if it’s a job it also gives you something you’re dependent on. A job can never fully replace that which true carefree enjoyment gives you.
We need to start taking care of our mind and view mental health as something that needs to be maintained and nurtured. Most of us work a lot harder with our mind than with our bodies and it is only natural then that life now takes a larger toll on our minds. Therefor mental health cannot be taken for granted just as we don’t take physical health for granted. Nor is it more shameful or a bigger failure to contract or be predisposed to mental illness than to physical illness.
Stay healthy by having a little fun every now and then!