It’s been a while since I have written; far too long if I’m being honest. I thought I would return with a topic that I believe is more important today than any day before it: mental health. Whether it’s this pandemic or the election, or current life obstacles or challenges completely unrelated, many people are suffering from mental health disorders. The two perhaps most prevalent in today’s society are anxiety and depression (along with insomnia), and we are seeing these disorders grow at a rapid pace here in America. In fact, here are the most recent statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness each year, 1 in 25 adults experience serious mental illness each year, 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% by age 24, and finally suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34. These statistics could go on and on (in fact, for more statistical information on mental health disorders, please visit NAMI’s website here: https://www.nami.org/mhstats), but the fact of the matter is, mental health disorders are growing and are starting younger and younger. Outside of visiting a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or other mental health professional, what can we do to for ourselves, our family, and our friends in the efforts to improve mental health in America? Yes, we know medications can work, and there is a time and place for them. But many of these medications also have unintended side effects and consequences, and don’t address the root cause of many of these disorders. So, back to the question, what can we do? Well, I’m glad you asked. For those of you who know me, or are just getting to know me, I believe lists do a great job of illustrating information better than almost any other avenue. With that, I have listed my top five exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle factors that can improve your mental health today. (This is not doctor’s advice and should not substitute, but rather work in conjuction with, your doctor’s recommendations)
1. Get moving. It doesn’t matter what you like to do for exercise or activity, but just move your body. Whether it’s aerobic (a light or moderate run) or anaerobic (sprints), whether it’s cardiovascular or resistance training, whether it’s structured or play, whether it’s indoor or outdoor, what matters most is that you find something or many things that you enjoy doing for movement, and do them daily. Like everything on this list, consistency is key!
2. Get outside. Nothing does a body good better than being outside (no, it’s not milk). The research is strong on this one. And even better if you can get into nature (out of the urban environment), and more bonus points if you can ground yourself in the earth (earthing; look it up – amazing amounts of research on these benefits for mental health as well). And why not kill two birds with one stone, and get your activity or exercise in while being outside?
3. Keep it level. Here, I am referring to your blood sugar levels. This is where sound nutrition comes into play. First and foremost, get your high-quality protein and fat in first (bonus if that high-quality fat comes from an omega-3 source such as fish/shellfish, as one of these components known as DHA can have tremendous benefits on mental health). These macronutrients are often most important as it relates to the nutrients are bodies NEED, but they also have either no effect or a very low, sustained effect on blood sugar levels. In addition, fruits and vegetables (the whole fruit, not the juice) also have a very low impact on blood sugar levels and should be our first go-to for carbohydrates. Research has shown that when we avoid blood sugar ups and downs (massive flux), our mood runs parallel to this. Easy concept to wrap your head around: even blood sugars, even mood.
4. Practice self-care. This cannot be said loud enough. You must make time to practice self-care. Self-care takes on so many forms for different people. This could entail one of the above-mentioned items such as getting exercise or getting outside, but it could also entail getting a massage, listening to music, taking a relaxing bath, or reading a good book (or simply sitting in a quiet room alone and being with yourself). Similar to the exercise concept above, find what you love, and make time for them daily. You owe this to yourself!
5. Find someone. Whether it’s a mental healthcare professional or a close family member or friend with an open ear and a kind heart, find someone you can talk to. And, I’m not referring to surface-level talk. I’m referring to finding someone you can get deep with; and work through the deeper levels of your thoughts, opinions, emotions, and feelings; like peeling back an onion (and you may shed some tears in both cases). This is so important, and arguably, could be the number one key to maintaining mental health.
BONUS: While I wanted to keep it to five keys, I knew I had to add this last one as a bonus. I feel I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t express how important it can be to include prayer, mindfulness/meditation, focused breathing, and gratitude journaling into your life. I have found all of these tools to be incredibly helpful with stress management and helping me put life’s daily challenges (some very big and some very small) in perspective. I would challenge you to consider adding one, two, three, or all of the above to your daily routine. I truly believe you will find extraordinary benefits to your mental health by including these tools in your life.
I would love your thoughts and feedback on this report, so feel free to reach out and share. And if you have anyone you think would appreciate receiving these reports, please feel free to share their email and I will add them to my mailing list.