As January winds down and we begin preparations for the rest of 2016, we’d like to remind you that a healthy lifestyle is just as much a mental process as it is physical one. Proper dieting and exercise can help achieve our weight loss and fitness goals, but what about improving mental fortitude – how do we go about achieving that?
The answer, to the surprise of no one, is a combination of things (it always is.) In this article we’ll be going over a few strategies to help you reach a positive, healthy state of mind.
Stress has the ability to affect our entire body in a negative way. We might feel fatigued, restless, or depressed; we may develop severe headaches, chest pains, high blood pressure or difficulties sleeping at night. Stress can even influence certain behavioral patterns and cause spikes in overeating, alcohol abuse, or social withdrawal.
If a more positive outlook on life is what you’re after, you’re going to need to find a way to rid yourself of chronic stress. The American Psychological Association set out to create a simple yet effective plan to do just that. Five steps to reduce stress, developed by the APA, are as follows:
1: Identify what’s causing stress
2: Build strong relationships
3: Walk away when you’re angry
4: Rest your mind
5: Get help
The last one is important. Remember, if you ever feel completely overwhelmed by stress, you’re never “above” getting help from a qualified professional. Reducing the burden of a tension-filled lifestyle is good for both your physical and mental state of mind.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Nothing beats that well rested feeling we get from a solid 8 hours of shut-eye, yet many of us fail to set aside enough time in the evening for sleep itself. This is bad. So bad, in fact, that many of the harmful symptoms associated with chronic stress are also related to sleep deprivation. Many heart and brain-related diseases were linked to sleep apnea in adults, including high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke. In the short term we’re likely to experience decreases in performance and alertness, memory and cognitive function, and for what, an extra hour or two of recreation? Maybe we’re busy with something work-related. Regardless, depriving ourselves of sleep has a profound effect on both our mental and physical states of well-being.
If you find yourself struggling with the above, try developing a nightly routine. Put away the electronics, find relaxing activities to engage in leading up to bed time, and when it’s time to go to sleep, do it. Sleep aids are not encouraged, but should be taken if absolutely necessary and only after you’ve consulted your physician.
Seek Social Interaction
We’re social creatures by nature, and you’d be surprised at just how beneficial social interaction actually is. We find ways to bond with one another and share the burden and rewards of life. Communities form strong ties between members, and, as observed in a survey of 14,000 adults in Southeastern Pennsylvania, can have lasting effects on our health well into old age. Communities and groups of friends rich in “social capital” – the ties that build trust, connection, and participation – are more likely to involve themselves in health-seeking behavior. They’re less likely to become depressed or develop diseases such as neuroticism and Alzheimers, and this is because health screenings are not only encouraged, but rewarded.
We can be surrounded by people yet be very, very alone. If you ever feel isolated, look for ways in which you can connect to people with similar ideals or interests. Turn to friends and family members for help, look for inspirations, things that make you smile. Only then will you be able to experience an elevated sense of companionship.