Staying physically and mentally healthy are often top of the list of goals set for individuals as they end one year and begin another. Mantras such as “healthy mind, healthy body” are helpful and motivating, but sometimes do us a disservice when we are encouraged to isolate the components. More than ever, current research implores us to think of the concepts as connected and interrelated, as two halves of the same coin.
A Reciprocal Relationship
We’ve long known that the state of one’s mental health contributes to decision-making, actions, and processing of emotions. But what we now know is also true is that poor mental health creates an increased toll on physical bodies as well as the immune system, and places individuals at greater risk for heart attack or cardiovascular disease. In turn, some researchers are hard at work identifying certain biological and chemical factors responsible for one’s predisposition for both conditions: depression and poor heart health.
Perhaps nowhere is the delicate relationship between physical and mental health more clearly outlined than in the area of chronic conditions. Poor mental health is listed as a risk factor for chronic physical conditions, and similarly, depression is often a common occurrence when individuals are diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV/ AIDS, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease or Rheumatoid Arthritis, among others.
Typically, when we are coping with stress or any mental health concern, especially depression, this is when we are least motivated to care for our physical selves. We tend to lose our routines, opt to stay inside, watch countless hours of mind-numbing television, and make ineffective choices when choosing how to fuel our bodies.
The first week of December is National Handwashing Awareness Week (Dec. 1–7) and in its wake, we are reminded of just how closely our physical and mental health are linked, and how some basic health practices can have some profound effects on our overall well-being. Truly, some of the best things that you can do for yourself include simple practices to protect against disease and stress, like hand washing and taking the time to exercise or get outside.
What You Can Do to Promote Physical & Emotional Wellness:
1. Wash Your Hands.
In order to prevent the spread of disease and infection, wash your hands thoroughly (at least 20 seconds) with soap and water BEFORE eating, treating wounds, or putting in contact lenses, and AFTER using the bathroom, handling an animal, taking out the trash, or blowing your nose.
2. Keep yourself & your home clean.
The physical spaces in which we spend our time truly impacts the way that we feel. Taking the time to care for yourself and your environment sends an implicit message that you are worthy of such effort, and can go a long way to inspire change. Shower every day and brush your teeth twice daily. Brush your hair, and take the time to get ready in the morning. Don’t leave trash, dirty dishes, and food out, as these attract bugs, which bring disease. Keep your room clean, and challenge yourself to make your bed every morning.
3. Take Charge of Your Sexual Health.
Take the needed steps to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Recognize your limits if you cannot afford or emotionally handle a child right now. Use reliable birth control and use a condom if you are not 100% sure that you or your partner is STD-free.
4. Make Sleep a Priority.
In 2014, the CDC reported (2014) that about 35% of the adult U.S. population is receiving less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night. Getting enough sleep is vital in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety, obesity, stroke, chronic pain, diabetes and heart attacks, among other medical conditions. Lack of restorative sleep leaves us vulnerable to increased irritability or emotionality, and decreases our ability to focus and continue to make good decisions.
5. Eat a Healthy Diet
Proper nutrition is also essential in establishing a healthy lifestyle and protecting against future ailments. Eat less fast food, snack food, and fried foods. Choose instead to eat more fruits and vegetables. Make a rule for yourself to eat when you are hungry, not because you are bored, stressed, or are avoiding processing difficult emotions.
6. Exercise Your Body
Get up off the couch, and get outside. In general, spend less time sitting and even at work, make it a goal to take a standing break for 10 minutes every hour. Walk, jog, swim, or bicycle several times per week. Join a gym or a yoga studio, and shoot for 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
7. Exercise Your Brain
Reduce mindless TV and video game time. Read books, magazines or keep yourself updated on the ongoings of current events. Play cards or board games that require logic or strategy. In general, spend less time numbing and more time thinking.
8. Seek Out Positive Experiences
Take an inventory of the activities you enjoy, and make a plan to do them. Focus more on the positive rather than the negative, and look to see if you can find the one thing that you may be excited about in order to drown out the noise of whatever it is you are dreading. Invest yourself into building a community of supportive others who are also pursuing health and wellness.
Incorporating some or all of these tips into your daily life can go a long way to helping you feel healthy, well-balanced and more prepared for the challenges of the season, and of life in general.