Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. So much of what we do physically impacts us mentally –it’s important to pay attention to both your physical health and your mental health, which can help you achieve overall wellness and set you on a path to recovery. This May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Community Care Services wants to raise the awareness about the connection between physical health and mental health.
Considering one in five Americans is affected by mental health conditions, developing a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, as well as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems.
There are several factors of our physical health that have a direct affect on our mental health, such as diet/nutrition, sleep, and exercise. General wellness of both the mind and body can be achieved through improving those three things in our lives. Here are three areas to help make a healthy mind and body connection.
When you hear someone say, ‘you are what you eat,’ to some extent, it’s quite true. Our nutritional intake can have huge impacts – both negative and positive — on how we feel, thanks mostly to the chemical serotonin. When serotonin levels are high, we’re happier, and when they’re low, we become depressed. Eating too many carbs and sugar can decrease sensitivity to serotonin, which leads to bad moods, and eventually obesity. To balance serotonin levels, eating protein can be the solution, especially before carb-intake. Instead of eating a sugary pick-me-up midday, go for a snack high in protein to keep the mood positive and energy up, avoiding a crash later.
One in three American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Too little sleep or poor quality sleep can make it difficult to function during the day. Lack of sleep has also been shown to significantly worsen the symptoms of many mental health conditions. By depriving the body and brain of sleep, our bodies have a high chance of producing more cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Not only does sleep re-energize ourselves through the production of serotonin, but it also allows any cortisol levels to drop. A good night’s sleep can bring a calming and energizing effect to your next morning. Tips for restful night’s sleep, establish a regular bedtime, turn off digital devices, create a comfortable sleep environment and avoid smoking, alcohol, caffeine and heavy meals before bedtime.
Exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, both inside and out, but it’s also important to know that our mental health can also get a much-needed boost when we exercise. It starts with the release of endorphins in the brain, those chemicals that give us a feeling of happiness and euphoria. Studies show that exercise can alleviate symptoms in those clinically depressed and, in some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant medications.
It can be as simple as going for a walk, short jog, a handful of push-ups or crunches – exercise is one of the keys to keeping your brain and your body working in unison. With even just a 20-minute window of exercise per day, your body will have more strength to shut down any depressive hormones, reduce anxiety, give a serotonin boost to the brain, but also give your physical self the energy it needs for the day-to-day grind. Exercising is a key contributor to good mental health, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Getting more exercise is not a substitute for other forms of treatment. If you’re struggling with symptoms of a mental health disorder, talk to a therapist or your family physician.
At CCS, we believe in ending the stigma of mental illness. During the month of May, we will be doing whatever we can to get the right materials into everyone’s hands – those who have questions, have someone they want to help, or who just want to better understand what mental health is all about. Whether it’s for you or a loved one, supporting those who struggle will help spread awareness and help end the stigma.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 31 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.