Mental Health Matters: How we undermine our mental health
We had an interesting question the other day: Are there things we do routinely or by habit every day that undermine our mental health in the same way bad habits undermine our physical health?
What a great question.
We no longer take our physical health for granted. We know we need to watch our diet, our exercise, our drinking and smoking and there are countless other ways our knowledge and behaviour related to physical health has changed during the last 20 years or so.
What about mental health?
We have improved in this area, too, but not nearly to the degree or in the ways we have for physical well-being.
So, what are the top 10 ways we undermine our own mental health?
Here they are, in no particular order:
• Alcohol and drug use: Of course substances are mood -altering, but there is far more to mental-health impact.
Addiction to anything can ruin relationships and cause immense stress in a person’s life. When health is negatively impacted, so is mental health.
• Diet and exercise: The reverse is also true in that, when our health is positively impacted, so, too, is our mental health.
If you can combine regular exercise with people you like to be with in a fun way, you are doing three positive things for your mental health.
If we eat too many carbs, the sugar highs and low impact on mood in unhealthy ways — and there are many more negative impacts than this.
• Lack of sleep: Lack of sleep impacts our health and our brain in ways we are only now beginning to understand. The impact of sleep deprivation can be devastating to health in general and brain health in particular.
This can never be good for mental health.
• Too much stress: The key is “too much” stress because some stress is actually quite normal and healthy.
How much is too much?
When stress impacts your physical well-being (diet, sleep and so forth) and when it creates mental uneasiness for prolonged periods of time, it is too much.
Each of us is different and we need to pay attention to the little things our bodies are telling us.
• Attitudes: People with a positive and cheerful outlook are happier and healthier. That’s a scientific fact.
• Beliefs: If you have rigid rules about the way things “have to be” or “should be,” you could be setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.
]Your beliefs about the world around you, and about yourself, need to be flexible, helpful and reassuring to help you live in a healthy way.
Many people sort the world in terms of absolutes, such as “right or wrong” or “good and bad,” and, for most people, they do not differentiate between blame (which looks backward in time, where there is no control) and responsibility (which looks forward in time and where there is some control).
• Coping skills: If you do not have the ability to handle stress, find ways to soothe your troubled mind when you are upset, handle anger or disappointment in healthy ways or juggle competing responsibilities, you may need to develop those skills.
• Brain injuries and brain health: The brain is the organ of your intellect and mental health and needs particular types of nutrition, blood flow (exercise) and mental exercise (puzzles and games) to be healthy.
• Relationships: We need relationships that are close and trustworthy in order to develop, grow and have meaning in our lives.
It is not an accident that, when one person in a multi-decade relationship passes away, their spouse sometimes passes way relatively soon afterward.
• Fun & laughter: Laughter releases endorphins and having fun builds relationships, a positive outlook and a sense of well-being.
As it turns out, we do quite a bit to undermine our mental health — so stop it!
Get on track with a positive attitude and behaviours that support improved and positive mental health.
Until next time, thank you for following our column every week.
If you have a question, send it to Kamloops@cmha.bc.ca because we always love to hear from you.