A Comprehensive Commitment to Mental Health: The Many Benefits of Self-Care
If you always seem to be feeling out of sorts - not quite mentally sharp, a little irritable and definitely fatigued - it’s hard to feel good about yourself and enjoy those aspects of life that you should be enjoying. People who just can’t seem to get into a groove where they’re feeling happy with a positive outlook often seek out scapegoats in their lives, such as their careers or personal relationships. But the root cause is often something much simpler, resulting from unhealthy lifestyle habits that siphon off your energy and undermine your sense of well-being. It’s very possible that angst you’re experiencing is due to lack of sleep, insufficient exercise or a poor diet.
There’s little doubt that the fast food industry and America’s mania for convenience in all things has made ours an eat-on-the-go society. That has made drive-through windows an essential part of daily living for many people, as omnipresent as pump-it-yourself gas stations. Consequently, too many Americans settle for the quick and easy when it comes to breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Diet has a great deal to do with your mental health, because the kind of food you eat directly impacts how well, or poorly, your brain functions. A balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, grains and protein and imparting plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is much more likely to produce a healthy brain and good mental health than the cheeseburger-and-fries diet.
Eating healthy protects the good bacteria which lines your intestine, and helps activate neural pathways between your gut and brain. Good bacteria like akkermansia, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium do important work in your gut, protecting it and your system from dangerous microbes. If digestion is a problem for you, it may be beneficial to get familiar with these assets to your physical and mental health, and recognize which supplements or food elimination or addition aids can help improve digestion.
Lack of exercise is a fairly commonplace problem in an ultra-busy society that places a premium on hard work and a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude. But exercise can alleviate stress by lowering blood pressure and activating feel-good hormones in your brain, like serotonin. Getting regular exercise is a commitment you make to take self-care seriously. Thirty minutes in the morning, a brisk walk on your lunch break or a stopover at the gym or park on your way home can leave you feeling less stressed, much happier and more motivated.
While you’re reducing stress, make a conscious effort to set personal boundaries, and make exercise and relaxation time “off limits” to anyone else’s needs by saying “no” when necessary. That can be difficult for people who are naturally inclined to be helpful, but a diplomatic “I just don’t have time right now” is all you really need to say.
Sleep is about much more than making sure you don’t get sleepy before lunch every day. It’s a cornerstone of your overall health picture, a natural bodily function that rejuvenates your immune system, helps keep cholesterol in check, staves off hypertension, and helps keep your weight under control. Sleep deprivation doesn’t just leave you feeling groggy - it can damage your cardiovascular system, affect memory and cognitive functioning, and leave you susceptible to illness.
According to a Harvard Medical School report, as much as 18 percent of America’s adult population is sleep deprived, contributing to anxiety, depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. Healthcare professionals recommend that everyone get from 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night in order to maintain good mental and physical health.
Self-care covers a wide territory. It’s anything you do to be a good steward of your mental and physical health, and it should definitely include the cornerstones of good health - sleep, exercise and nutrition.
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