Since the beginning of the new millennium, an increasing focus on health has been taking the world by storm. The popularity of yoga and vegetarianism is no longer limited to the hippie state of California. Ordinary people have jumped on the bandwagon and dedicated housewives even have meal calendars to make sure that their families eat varied yet nutritionally balanced meals every day. Organic marketplaces are mushrooming faster than Super Mario’s toadstools.
Unfortunately, as we become more westernized in our way of life, our focus also shifts to our physical health at the expense of our mental health. While everyone accepts that stress takes a toll in our bodies, we don’t realize that it can eat away at our mental health until it’s too late.
Healing the soul
Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the stresses of life, can work fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to the community.” In a nutshell, mental health is not just about the absence of a mental illness.
Just like physical health, the responsibility of mental health falls to the individual and the community. The more mental health problems go unaddressed, the more time is lost from productive citizens. Hence, nations like the U.S. and the U.K. are now promoting mental health wellness in order to maximize their citizens’ productivity and general contentment.
We, however, cannot always rely on the government to help us achieve a healthy state. We owe it to ourselves to make sure that we’re functioning at our best, both physically and mentally. For those who don’t quite know where to start, the following are simple, realistic tips to help you achieve that state of mental fulfillment.
Eat right, whether it’s healthy, fresh or organic—or all of the above. A recent study found that eating at least two tomatoes a week decreased the risk for depression by half. In another study, children who ate more fruit and vegetables had a higher IQ as early as 8 years old compared to children fed chocolate, sodas and chips. If you think you’re smart now, thank your mother for it.
Still doubtful? You can download a free Food and Mood Diary from the U.K. Mental Health Foundation (mentalhealth.org.uk) to prove it to your inner skeptic.
Get that butt moving. The effects of exercise on your mood and cognitive function are incredible. Exercise releases massive amounts of endorphins in your body, creating an uplifting rush that stays in your body for hours—the biological basis for “runner’s high.” Remember, a good mood is only a workout away.
Connect. Make time for family and friends. Relationships need to be nurtured and cherished. Try to pay attention to your relationships as much as you do your career, and you’ll be surprised at how much happier you feel.
Love your work. You spend most of your waking life at work. If you’re unhappy at what you do and see it as a grudge, then you’re basically assigning eight hours of your day to unhappiness. Learn how to spend time at work with co-workers you like. This will not only make you look forward to working, but it will make your workload a lot lighter.
Invest in culture and charity. Music, art, nature and doing charitable work can all jumpstart non-dominant parts of your brain that usually lie dormant when you focus on work and everyday concerns. Go to the museum—it’s cheaper than a movie. Save up for tickets to a musical—sometimes cheaper than a night out drinking. Or try switching your radio to a classical station. All these are non-painful ways to stretch your brain and enhance creativity.
Get more brain-healthy ideas in the March issue of HealthToday, out now in newsstands and bookstores.