Yes, the world is a crazy place, let’s make no mistake. Stating it doesn’t mean you hate life, it is merely a truthful statement. The reality is that things are always happening, there are noises around 24/7, the workload never ends, the kids always need lunches and help with homework, the kitchen is always a mess no matter how much you clean it, and on and on it goes. No matter what your profession, schedule, beliefs, level of education…it is tough to keep a sane mind in this rushed and sometimes taxing world.
So, how does one do it? How do we maintain a level head in the up and down? Tough times are inevitable, but it is how we handle the tough times that ultimately determines how we come out the other side. So, keeping a good mind that can handle the tough stuff is the most important strategy. Good mental health is key to survival in the world we have created.
When I say, “mental health” and “mental wellness”, what do you picture? Are you going straight to depression and anxiety? Or do you also see the moments when someone just isn’t quite right? Do you see extreme personality shifts, or do you also hear the little voice that says, “you aren’t good enough”? Often, we only imagine things in the extreme and, because we aren’t diagnosed with depression or anxiety or some more severe disorder, we believe that what are feeling and thinking isn’t on the “mental health issues” list. But let’s be real: stress, constant worrying thoughts, strange vivid dreams that keep you from restful sleep, belittling yourself in thought or spoken word are just SOME of the things that contribute to, and ultimately impact, our mental wellbeing, whether a doctor has told us we officially are depressed or anxious or not.
So, what are the things we can do to keep our brain in the sane? It’s not as difficult as you think to keep a great and happy mind. No complicated treatment plans required. No need to reach for the credit card. Here are my top 5 that are easily adjusted in the comfort of your own home (and mind):
Yep, I’m sure you knew I’d bring it up. However, I bet it’s going to be in a different context to what you think.
You’re probably conjuring some image of a perfectly straight-backed person, sitting cross-legged with hands on the legs, eyes closed and a slight smile on their face, looking peaceful beyond belief in the ultimate meditation moment…not everyone is going to be into that. Not everyone can even do that. Not everyone even enjoys it! I can honestly say that this is not the way I meditate. It hurts my back. My legs go numb. And it is nearly impossible to find stillness. The good news? More than one form of meditation exists!
Some people like to sit in stillness, others embrace the guided meditation apps. Some like the sounds of nature or the sea, others prefer rain storm sounds while they try and get some sleep. Maybe you go for a walk on the beach and just stare at the waves? Maybe you garden and spend some time repotting the herbs. Maybe you put on some music, lock all the doors and windows and just dance like no one is watching (even though google probably is). Maybe its journaling, drawing, painting, singing, playing your drums or doing yoga. These things that calm our minds that we do by ourselves FOR OURSELVES are all forms of meditation, and mental self-care. The idea is that you are perfectly in THIS moment, and not lost in the future, the past or even the to-do list.
What about the science behind this? Well, it’s there! Studies have shown mindfulness and meditation to be effective in MULTIPLE areas of wellbeing, on a physical and mental level, including reducing chronic pain and high blood pressure, reducing severity of conditions such as ulcerative colitis and IBS, relieving symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia and helping to reduce cravings in those who have recently embarked on the journey to quit smoking (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), 2016). Studies even show that it PHYSICALLY improves the brain and slows the degeneration caused by aging (NCCIH, 2016).
Don’t knock how good this is for you! This is something that I have come to add to almost every treatment plan I write up. Why would I do such a hippy-dippy thing? Because everyone needs, and deserves, to feel joy in life. DO THINGS THAT BRING YOU JOY. Is this in the form of a hobby? A visit with a friend or family member? Maybe it’s date night with your one-and-only, or even just a date night with yourself? Whatever makes you happy – do it! Set aside time for it. Schedule it in like any other appointment that you can’t miss. 2hours a week of joyful activity does WONDERS for the mind. It reminds us just how wonderful life is and when we love life, we love to live. Suddenly, the work load isn’t so overwhelming, the chores get done quickly and everything just feels OK. The power of the mind is greater than you know.
HOW you eat.
Yes, what you eat is also important, but HOW we eat is too often overlooked. Do you eat on the go? Do you skip meals? Do you eat really fast and even forget what you ate shortly after you just ate it? Do you eat alone or make it an event that the whole family shares? Eating mindfully is important! Yes, this fits into mindfulness, but eating is a process that we don’t usually associate with mindful practice and meditation, and something we often take for granted, so I am giving this section its own spot on the list. Eating gives us pleasure, whether we like to admit that or not. So really being mindful of tasting the food, feeling the textures, slowly chewing properly, taking time to eat only when we’re truly feel hungry instead of just “feeding feelings” and really enjoying each and every bite is a very simple way to keep things in the brain happier.
WHAT you consume.
Nutritious, unprocessed, whole foods are the key! As good as ice-cream, chips, HSP, a burger or something alcoholic may be in the moment, it’s a short-lived high that wreaks havoc on the body, mind and soul. Think bloating, weight gain, headaches and shaky, sugar lows. If your body doesn’t feel good, how can your mind? Whole foods give us all the nutrients we need so that we can create the right hormones and neurotransmitters to keep things working on a physiological level. Bright, colourful foods of all textures, shapes and flavours make us happy too! Who isn’t excited when they see bright things? Who isn’t happy when they eat something crunchy when crunchy is their favourite thing? Food can bring joy; just make sure it’s long term joy and not a quick fix that is going to hinder you further down the line.
SLEEP. SLEEP. SLEEP.
I cannot overstate sleeps’ importance in mental self-care. 7-9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep is MAGIC! Quality sleep is important for brain function, memory and is an important part of treatment for the more severe mental health issues like depression, anxiety and even bipolar disorders (Havard Medical School, 2019). More sleep leads to a better ability to do all those things you are fretting about anyway. There is NOTHING worse for the day than opening your eyes in the morning and feeling like you need a nap before you head has even left the pillow. Get your wind-down routine in place so that you are ensuring you have proper sleep. One tip for this? NO SCREEN BEFORE BED. Seriously – leave the smart phone, laptop, tablet and TV alone at least an hour before bed. Longer is better. It may feel weird, and you may feel a little like you need a Facebook session to “wind-down and de-stress”, but it stimulates your mind, reduces sleep hormone production, keeps your nervous system in ra reactive state and ultimately keeps your mental health in a state of dis-repair.
Remember this: our body and mind are one. One cannot be well if the other isn’t. Self-care isn’t just about movement and making physical changes to your diet and lifestyle, it’s about thinking and feeling right too. And if you’re in a place where you just can’t think and feel right, reach out. We all need a little help now and then. It doesn’t make us weak, or incapable. It makes us perfectly human.
I am currently a 4th year student practitioner at Wellnation Clinic in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, available for the remainder of the 2019 semester on Monday’s 3-6pm and Friday’s 8-11am for Naturopathy consultations.
Havard Medical School. (2019). Sleep and mental health. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from Havard health publishing website: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). (2016). Meditation: In Depth. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) website: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm