Exercise Your Mental Health in 2016
Many of us will make some sort of New Year’s resolution. In 2015 some of the top resolutions were to stay fit and healthy (37%); lose weight (32%); spend less, save more (25%).1 While these are perfectly fine resolutions, I would challenge everyone to consider their mental health fitness as a priority for 2016.
Everyone has mental health! The World Health Organization states that “mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.”2 Poor mental health can lead to higher mortality rates and higher incidence of illness in general. Mental health can be improved and strengthened just as our physical bodies can be.
Here are a few tips to strengthen your mental health in the New Year:
Eat a healthy diet. Our bodies need energy to carry us through the day. Our minds are no different: “In 2013, a study of almost 11,000 middle-aged women found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet not only lived longer than control participants, but they also had better cognitive function and mental health.”3
Exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins, which reduce the perception of pain and can induce a feeling of happiness. It is a natural “high” that is good for you and non-addictive.4
Get regular sleep. It has been found that “chronic sleep issues have been correlated with depression, anxiety, and mental distress.”5 Experts recommend going to bed at the same time each day and getting up at a regular time as well. Approximately 7-8 hours per night is the recommended amount for adults.
Manage your stress. Studies have found that people with chronic stress have more white matter in areas of the brain, which disrupts the normal process of cell communication. This can cause abnormal responses at times of stress.6
Volunteer or find a hobby. Engaging in activities with other people, serving others, and being creative have a positive effect on our mood and overall well-being. “Concentrating on a hobby, like gardening or the crossword, can help you forget your worries for a while and change your mood,” say experts from the Mental Health Foundation.7
Pray. In the Psalms we are reminded of King David battling his own depression. In Psalm 6, David describes himself as “worn out from [his] groaning,” but in the end he acknowledges God as accepting his prayer. Psalm 13 is another example of how David felt forsaken by God, but in prayer and contemplation he sees God’s love and is sure of his salvation.
Seek professional help when necessary. Recognize symptoms and treat them early. The following chart from Mental Health America can help to assess warning signs of mental health conditions:8
Mild Symptoms and Warning Signs
At Stage 1, a person begins to show symptoms of a mental health condition, but is still able to maintain the ability to function at home, work or school—although perhaps not as easily as before they started to show symptoms. Often there is a sense that something is “not right.”
Symptoms Increase in Frequency and Severity and Interfere with Life Activities and Roles
At Stage 2, it usually becomes obvious that something is wrong. A person’s symptoms may become stronger and last longer or new symptoms may start appearing on top of existing ones, creating something of a snowball effect. Performance at work or school will become more difficult, and a person may have trouble keeping up with family duties, social obligations or personal responsibilities.
Symptoms Worsen with Relapsing and Recurring Episodes Accompanied by Serious Disruption in Life Activities and Roles
At Stage 3, symptoms have continued to increase in severity, and many symptoms are often taking place at the same time. A person may feel as though they are losing control of their life and the ability to fill their roles at home, work or school.
Symptoms are Persistent and Severe and Have Jeopardized One’s Life
By Stage 4, the combination of extreme, prolonged and persistent symptoms and impairment often results in development of other health conditions and has the potential to turn into a crisis event like unemployment, hospitalization, homelessness or even incarceration. In the worst cases, untreated mental illnesses can lead to loss of life an average of 25 years early.
The benefits of being mentally healthy are numerous. As with many other aspects of our life, it takes a bit of effort to maintain positive and healthy mental well-being. Set your goals today and make a plan for a mental health makeover in 2016. God’s blessings on a healthy New Year!
Sometimes even though we are working toward being healthy, we might need the help of a professional, whether for physical or mental health concerns. If you need professional help with mental health concerns, our Christian counselors are a resource. Counseling services can be provided in person at one of our clinic locations, or via secure video through our telehealth or Member Assistance Program from anywhere in the country or world. Contact us at 800.438.1772 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org(link sends e-mail) to learn more.