Make this the time you take charge of your mental health

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

We’re taking time this month to kick off the New Year by focusing on mental health and overall well-being.

The beginning of a new year is a time to reflect and look forward. If you’re like the majority of Americans, it also means you have made some type of resolution, usually surrounding your diet and/or fitness. Unfortunately, statistics show an abysmal 8 percent of those who make a resolution keep it to the end of the year.

What this tells us is that by February most of us are back to old habits - if we ever changed at all - and we’re feeling down on ourselves. This is also typically the time of year when we go several days in a row without sunshine and experience unpredictable temperatures, leading many to feel grumpy and downright sad at times.

That’s where mental health awareness comes in. We can’t control the weather or the shorter days, but we can always control how we react to them. We can also work on realistic changes that can help both our minds and our bodies. The connection between the two is very powerful and researchers in various fields are learning more about this connection all the time.

Fortunately, there are some practical tips for using the connection to your advantage and simply feeling better:

• Get enough sleep. It varies from person to person, but most adults need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours for optimal functioning. This means shutting down the tablet or phone and stopping that Netflix binge at a reasonable time. If sleep is difficult, practice some simple sleep hygiene. Shut off all electronics an hour before getting into bed, go to bed the same time each night, and have a simple ritual. This can be as easy as washing your face, brushing your teeth, and having a glass of water or decaffeinated beverage. You’re letting your body know it’s time to start winding down. If sleep remains elusive, contact your primary care physician.

• Eat right. Balanced nutrition helps us feel our best and promotes a healthy immune system, which is something everyone needs especially this time of year. Your health care provider is a good place to start if you feel overwhelmed. A good rule of thumb is to focus on eating less processed food and more fruits and vegetables. Limit concentrated sweets and sugary beverages. If you’ve been placed on a special diet for health reasons, do your best to follow it and ask your friends and family to help you. Get outside. Even an overcast day can yield beauty if we look for it. Bundle up and breath some fresh air daily if special health concerns don’t prevent it. Being outside has been found to reduce stress and improve mood, both of which can help us feel better.

• Get moving. Exercise can become fun rather than a chore when you choose something you enjoy. It can lead to improved health and mood as well as become a social outlet when you join others who enjoy the same activity. One of the best exercises is simply walking for a set time each day, gradually increasing your time as endurance improves. It you have not been regularly exercising, always consult your primary care physician before starting something new.

• Soothe your spirit. Spend time with people who lift you up and make you feel better when we you are with them. Make the time to connect with the special people in your life. If you feel you don’t have enough social support, begin to work on broadening your circle. For those with a faith tradition, regular church attendance provides a connection with those of similar faith as well as a sense of connection with something bigger than ourselves.

• Don’t take on too much. One thing most experts agree on is that attempting to overhaul your entire life at once is a recipe for failure. Pick one area you want to improve and work on that before tackling another one. You will most certainly discover making small changes can lead to feeling better no matter what the time of year.

This article is provided as a community service by Mercy Hospital Cassville’s Senior Life Solutions. Senior Life Solutions is an intensive outpatient therapy program dedicated to the emotional well-being of seniors over the age of 65. For further information, please contact 417-847-6042.