MENTAL HEALTH - Definition: n. A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
I couldn't have said it better myself! May is mental health month and that got me thinking about the most common "ailment" that I see in practice - Stress. Everyone today seems to be over-worked, over-programmed and over-tired! This has created a generation of individuals who are suffering from stress related diseases - insomnia, anxiety, depression, mental fatigue, inability to concentrate, memory impairment...the list goes on!
The main culprit for these ailments is elevated Cortisol levels. Cortisol is your body's stress hormone. It gets secreted in situations of stress and keeps the Sympathetic Nervous System active (Fight or Flight) and turns the Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest and Relaxation) off. This is a massive physiological problem! When your body isn't able to reside in PNS, you don't recharge your battery, digest efficiently or replenish the organ systems.
Here are 5 things you can do to improve your mental health and restore your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS):
1) Deep breathing - taking long deep inhales and long deep exhales (4-5 seconds each) can let your system know that it is not in danger and that it is safe to do what you are doing (working at your desk, sitting in traffic, rushing around, etc).
2) Cut the stimulants - Decrease caffeine and sugar to keep the Adrenal Glands functioning properly. These two substances jolt the adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol to keep your body running. You want to preserve the adrenal glands, not shock them on a daily basis!
3) Gratitude Journal - it might sounds cheesy, but writing down the things that you are grateful for on a daily basis can change the way the brain interprets stimuli. The more repetition the better, the brain will soon adopt it as fact. Start with external things and then move into gratitudes about yourself and what you can do for others.
4) Play Mind Games ;) - keeping the mind active and stimulated creates stronger neurological signalling and firing. Card games, scrabble, Sudoku, number games, Lumosity, crosswords - anything that makes you solve, reflect and focus on one singular thing is amazing for the health of the brain and general well-being.
5) Talk to somebody - No one should have to go through hard times alone. There is no shame in seeking professional help - mental well-being is the most important thing that one can posses! In Ontario, here are some great resources:
Please reach out this month if you would like to make mental health one of your health goals!
Dr. Kate Hunter, ND