By Andrea Semmann, MBA, CTC
Many of us will make some sort of New Year’s resolution for 2023. Some of the top resolutions in 2022 were to
- stay fit and healthy (48%);
- spend more time with family and friends (34%);
- spend less time on social media (21%).1
Living in a post-pandemic world, we may feel an even stronger need for growth and self-betterment. For this reason, you may want to make your own mental health “fitness” a priority in 2023.
Mental health can be improved and strengthened just as our physical bodies can be. And in many ways, the two are intertwined. Add in the spiritual component and you have the trifecta of what it means to be human and alive: body, mind, and spirit. They are intertwined, and all three aspects require care.
Caring for your mental health has beneficial impact on other areas of your life. Dr. Darleen Dempster, a clinical faculty member in the counseling program at Southern New Hampshire University, says, “When in a state of good mental health, a person has a generally positive outlook, can accomplish daily tasks, maintain relationships and engage in meaningful recreation.”2 Contrarily, poor mental health can lead to higher mortality rates and higher incidence of illness in general. Poor mental health prevents us from doing the things that are good for us physically and spiritually. So, it is wise to prioritize our mental fitness.
Here are a few tips to strengthen your mental health in the New Year:
Eat a healthy diet. In the same way that our bodies need energy to carry us through the day, our minds need the same. According to Medical News Today, recent research found that diet can affect blood glucose levels, immune activation, and the gut microbiome, all of which may affect a person’s mood.3 Data from several studies revealed that the Mediterranean Diet was associated with a 33 percent reduced risk of depression, compared with participants who followed a typical “pro-inflammatory” standard American diet.4 You should follow the diet that is right for you based on your doctor’s recommendations. Whatever diet you follow, the point is that a healthy diet supports your mental health.
Exercise regularly. A research study done in March 2022 found that exercise undertaken three times weekly for at least eight weeks demonstrated success in treating depressive disorder. 5 Exercise also releases endorphins, which help reduce the perception of pain and can induce a feeling of happiness. It is a natural “high” that is both good for you and non-addictive. 6
Get regular sleep. A study done in January 2022 found that sleep duration was independently associated with a higher incidence of depression. Not only insufficient sleep but also excessive sleep increases the risk of depression.7 With this in mind, adults should aim for the recommended 7-8 hours per night.
Manage your stress. According to the Stress in America 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), 65% of people surveyed said the current uncertainty in the nation is stressful, and 60% are overwhelmed by the issues the country is facing. Chronic stress affects the whole body. It can have several physical or psychological symptoms, which can make functioning on a daily basis more challenging.8
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.9
Establish a support network. Having a support network, whether via self-help groups or close friends and family, can also be essential to recovery from mental illness.10
Pray. In 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:11
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 the 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.
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.
The benefits of being mentally healthy are numerous, and all of these tips will work in harmony with one another to help strengthen your mental fitness overall. As with many other aspects of our life, it takes a bit of effort to maintain a positive and healthy mental well-being. Set your goals today and make a plan for a mental health makeover in 2023.
Counseling services at CFS can be provided in person at one of our clinic locations, or via secure video through our telehealth, or through our Member Assistance Program. Contact us at 800-438-1772 to learn more. You can also Request an Appointment here on our website.