Your Questions Answered – Cultivating mental well-being at home
In this column, PeaceHealth experts address current health issues and topics impacting our amazing Florence community. We hope you find it informative. If you have any suggestions for topics, please send them to Dr. Willy Foster at [email protected].
July 6, 2022 — These days you can do just about anything at home.
You can work from home, go to school from home, and even buy matching sweaters for you and your cat from the comfort of your couch.
You can also take steps to promote a healthy brain and mental well-being.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. When we aren’t feeling well mentally, we can suffer from a host of symptoms including anxiety, depression, pain and fatigue.
Maybe some of these sound familiar to you. You certainly wouldn’t be the only one.
Mental health challenges are increasingly common, as more than 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives. Yet they can be difficult to talk about and, for some people, mental illness still has a stigma, so someone having mental health struggles can feel as if they are the only one with a problem.
There are all sorts of ways to improve physical health at home: stretching, walking, lifting weights, even going for a run (or so I have been told).
Creating mental health starts at home too and there are many different ways to promote mental wellness, including:
- Exercise – Specifically aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, gardening, swimming or dancing (even bad dancing) has been shown to promote mental wellness. One study even found exercise to be as effective as antidepressant medication in treating depression. Exercise is thought to increase production of serotonin (a feel-good neurotransmitter), increase resilience, regulate mood and sleep, and help grow new neurons, which are the fundamental units of the brain. A good goal is at least 30 minutes per day three days per week. But more is even better. If that seems daunting, start with less and work your way up.
- Diet – What you eat may seem unrelated to mood, but the saying “put good in, get good out” rings true. More and more research suggests that a healthy diet is imperative for mental well-being. Studies suggest roughly 95 percent of serotonin is produced in the GI tract through the bacteria that live there. Furthermore, studies have shown a 25-35 percent decrease in depression risk with a Mediterranean diet (rich in veggies, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and olive oil) versus a typical Western diet. So while cookies may be easy on the tastebuds, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean meats, fish and healthy fats is what your gut (and brain) really want.
- Mindfulness – Zen Master TN Hanh once said, “Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves.” Sounds pretty good, right? Mindfulness is defined by The American Psychological Association as “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings…to help avoid destructive habits… by learning to observe thoughts, emotions, and other experiences without judging or reacting to them”. The practice has been around for centuries but has recently been gaining praise for its mental benefits. Study after study shows that mindfulness helps to reduce levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and stress, while increasing levels of happiness, perceived quality of life, and mood. Fortunately, it has never been easier to try mindfulness, with various apps available and guided online meditations.
- Faith Community – Some people find that having a community of faith is important to maintain mental well-being. Faith communities can be helpful through practicing forms of mindfulness, as mentioned above, such as meditation or contemplative prayer. Having a faith community also promotes a sense of togetherness and can be important to one’s sense of community, which has a significant positive effect on mental health. In addition, having a faith life can help people to process and understand the things that happen to them. Having a faith community is also a great way to get involved with helping others and volunteering, which does wonders for self-esteem and mental health (not to mention the good that it does for others!)
For some people, medications and counseling are an important part of managing their mental health and that is perfectly ok. Reach out for help when you need it. The suggestions above are things that anyone can do to boost mood on their own time, at their own pace. Healthy habits truly do start at home!