By Nancie A. Vito, MPH, CHES
Mental health is as important as physical health.
I like to think of mental health asa continuum. If we do not suffer from mental illness, for example, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are mentally healthy. The goal is to flourish and to increase a sense of overall well-being.
Mental health and physical health are clearly interwoven, and research shows there are clear mind-body connections.
Poor mental health is a major cause of number of days out from work, poor productivity and concentration, and increased illness, just to name a few. Stress and poor mental health can impair the body’s immune system and decrease the ability to heal. With repeated and chronic stressors, we’re more likely to develop illnesses and have a longer healing time. In fact, a huge portion of physical illness results from stress, poor mental health or deep-seeded feelings that have been “pushed down,” or not been dealt with or healed. For example, when we hold feelings in, they may manifest as an illness down the road.
In 2003, the World Health Organization predicted that the “burden of disease” from poor mental health is expected to increase significantly over the next 20 years. We have to wonder if this is because of our culture’s fact-paced lifestyle, eating processed and chemical-filled foods, or because our culture waits to have fun.
In general though, the lifestyle in our culture is one that can cause stress and to be less and less present if we're not mindful. Due to increased concepts of “do more with less” at work, many people put in long hours and often place work before what’s otherwise truly important to them.
That said, here are some actionable steps to help you increase mental health and overall well-being:
1. If you feel chronically stressed, explore the root cause of your stress so that you can take steps to address it. That way you don’t simply cope and manage, but also prevent and reduce stress overall.
2. Implement healthy coping mechanisms to enhance overall well-being. This can include meditation, prayer, taking conscious breaks, deep breathing, practicing yoga, juicing, making time for fun, taking YOU time, consuming nourishing food and drink, talking to a friend, and journaling, to name a few.
3. Create and maintain a healthy mindset. Focus on overall health and wellness, rather than “not getting sick.” It helps to be mindful of where you’re placing your energy. Constantly complaining or spreading negativity on Facebook can bring us down. Certainly reach out to others for support, and focus on healing rather than staying too long on what you don't want.
4. Ask for help as you are not alone. If you feel that you could use some help in the mental health area, reach out! Talk with a friend. Join a group. And should you feel depressed (feeling down more often than not and/or having loss of interest in things you normally enjoy), reach out to a professional, as they are here to help and serve you. Professional include doctors, therapists, counselors, ministers, healers and holistic practitioners, and others.
We need to keep in mind that mental health is just as important as physical health and not sweep it under the rug.
As always, please share your comments and insights below. Specifically, what steps will you take towards positive mental health?