As a society that lives as highly stress as we do, it’s important that we cultivate good mental health by taking proper preventative measures. Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you purchase through them.
With a year containing as many plot twists as 2020, it’s safe to say we’ve all been affected mentally one way or another and are in much need of developing a plan to cultivate good mental health.
Reports have shown that anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses have been at an all time high since the pandemic began. But even before the pandemic, mental illness had become somewhat of a focus as it has been said to be the leading cause of disability in the US.
We live in a society where we’re constantly on the go and often leave our health last.
And even those who are conscious of their health, are still likely to neglect their mental health.
The mind seems like a made up place to most, it’s just “in our heads”.
This idea is harmful because the mind is connected to the brain which means there are physical consequences when our mental health isn’t acknowledged.
The stigma behind mental illness creates a barrier around seeking help. It also creates misinformation and lack of awareness to the public.
The less open we are about mental illness, the less of a problem it seems, making less of a priority to be researched.
Luckily we now have a better understanding and the stigma is slowly diminishing as more and more people speak up and normalize seeking help.
Understanding the importance of seeking help with mental illness isn’t the only problem. Preventing mental illness is too.
As we hear more about seeking therapy and lifestyle changes to improve mental health, we also need to hear more about people taking action to prevent mental illness.
As a species that lives such high stress lives as we do, it’s important that we cultivate good mental health to prevent illness in the first place.
A lack of mental illness does not always mean a healthy mind. The same way the lack of physical illness does not always mean physical wellness.
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health goes beyond the absence of mental illness or disorders. It’s a culmination of our social, psychological and emotional well-being.
It determines how we handle stress, how we interact with one another, how we think and how we feel.
It also determines physical health as well. As most unexplained illness and ailments are manifested by prolonged poor mental health.
The Mind Body Connection
Understanding how the mind and body are connected is as simple as understanding how stress affects our physical health.
This 2018 article titled ‘Stress effects on the body’ written by the American Psychological Association lays out how stress affects various body systems.
From your immune function to your heart, stress can not only create short term damage but even long term more permanent damage as well.
5 Ways Stress Affects The Body
The stress response is purely hormonal. So as soon as you begin to feel stress your body kicks into actions sending out hormones to help your body cope with the stressor.
With long term stress comes long term hormones secretion which creates an imbalance. This imbalance ultimately affects your immune system by kicking it into overdrive thinking the hormones are threats, which lead it to attack healthy cells.
Ever been so anxious you felt your stomach turn? That’s your body’s natural fight or flight response to a threat. Or in this case, stress.
Though this response is natural it’s not necessarily normal when triggered long term. Being in fight or flight mode long term will cause disruption in the microbiome.
We all know how hard it is to sleep when we are stressed, anxious or generally have a lot on the mind.
This is usually due to the over production of adrenaline and cortisol that make it hard to wind down. When we lose sleep we become less alert, find it even harder to relax and also limit our bodies ability to fully recover.
The same way stress affects our physical bodies is the same way other thoughts, behaviors, attitudes and feelings affect our physical bodies.
What Are The 7 Main Signs Of Mental Illness?
While anxiety and depression are the most known kinds of mental illness, there are many kinds ranging from addiction to schizophrenia.
Each illness works differently, while some overlap.
Some symptoms can be mild or more obvious and vary depending on the mental disorder and severity of it.
Here are some general signs you could have one:
- Experiencing excessive worry, anxiety and even paranoia
- Noticeable changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Social withdrawal or anxiety in social settings
- Moodiness or mood changes
- Emotional Numbness or sadness that doesn’t seem to pass
- Getting triggered or angered easily, or lashing out
- Having “tantrums” (Emotional outbursts/ lack of emotional regulation)
There is still so much unknown about each illness but they all significantly interfere with the ability to socialize and can affect quality of life.
What Triggers Mental Illness?
Like most illnesses there is not one single cause, but there can be risk factors. The more risks the more likely it can be for you to develop a mental illness.
Some mental illness can be present without any real signs or symptoms until an event triggers it.
Risk Factors For Mental Illness:
Genetics – a family history of mental illness
Childhood Trauma – most trauma is hard to process as a child however affects us for life
Environment- living in stressful environments like poverty, abuse and other violence
Brain Chemistry – an imbalance of chemicals in the brain
Unhealthy Habits – poor diet, poor sleep, negative thoughts
Stressful or Traumatic Events – death, car accident, divorce, moving to a new location
The Benefits of Cultivating Good Mental Health
As you might imagine being intentional with our mental health and its wellness will come with many positive benefits, even if we aren’t ill.
Practicing coping skills and changing our lifestyle will set a foundation for a strong mental resilience along with:
- Better relationships
- Clearer thinking
- A more balanced life
- Higher self esteem
- Higher vibrational frequency
- Sense of calm/inner peace
- A sense of meaning and purpose
- Less anxiety
To cultivate good mental health doesn’t mean that your life will be perfect or that you won’t have negative experiences. It allows you a larger perspective and the ability to balance your emotions in a way that allows you to process stress in a more healthy way.
This resilience is similar to what you might see in someone who works hard on their health on a daily basis, and is able to fight off a cold in 24 hours. While the average person who neglects their overall health will fight off the same cold in weeks.
So whether you’re looking for ways to cope with your current mental illness or you want to avoid mental illness because you are at a higher risk, here are a few things you can do to cultivate good mental health.
6 Proven Ways To Cultivate Mental Wellness
Eat Real Food
What we put into our bodies affect every organ, every cell in our body, so there’s no surprise our mental health would be affected too.
A healthy diet is known to affect brain health by boosting its development and increasing neurotransmitters.
And also affecting the gut by increasing good bacteria, decreasing inflammation.
Another interesting factor in gut health is that it is responsible for 75% of the body’s serotonin production. Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings and general happiness.
Knowing this should be enough to switch up what you put into your bodies.
Some ways to start would be to cut out processed foods and replace it with fresh nutrient rich foods that support gut and brain health.
Move Your Body
Going back to the body/ mind connection. Research has shown that physical exercise is just as beneficial for the brain and mental health as it is for the body.
Physical movement has anti-anxiety effects on the brain by replenishing GABA, a neurotransmitter that has a huge role in the body’s stress response.
Regular exercise has been proven to prevent and even decrease depression .
Exercise also increases important chemicals (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in the brain that improve mood and decrease stress.
By ensuring regular movement whether through exercise, yoga, walking or even dance you can boost your brain functions and cultivate good mental health.
Get Serious About Sleep Habits
It’s no secret that sleep plays a huge role in our overall health. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling groggy and irritable.
Poor sleep has even been linked to various unfavorable health issues.
This 2017 article suggests that sleep can play a role in the development of mental health problems. Though the connection between sleep and mental health is a bit complex, they’ve always been known to affect each other. Meaning, poor sleep habits can lead to mental illness and mental illness can lead to poor sleep.
Therefore it is important you have a good sleep routine. Both going to bed early and rising early is best to support our circadian rhythm. Which is our bodies natural alarm clock . It’s also best to go to sleep at the same time every night to support a consistent sleep pattern.
When our sleep habits are consistent our bodies are able to fully reset and recharge as they’re meant to while we sleep. Allowing us to function to our fullest potential.
Find A Community/ Support Group
Building friendships and a close family or community ties can develop a sense of belonging. That’s why areas known as blue zones are the most healthy communities on the planet.
Blue zones are geographical areas made up of lost knit communities. There are 5 main ones across the globe.
They are known to live longer than most of the world, have lower rates of chronic illness, have a happier life, and most importantly have lower rates of mental health issues.
These communities have 7 ways of living that provide them with optimal health.
One of them is having an emphasis on relationships.
They have strong family values. Helping one another to raise children, look after elders and come together regularly for gatherings and even just going on walks together.
This 2017 study shows that having a support system can have positive impacts on overall mental health. Whether that’s family, friends, or even a support group you attend.
It’s important you surround yourself with people regularly and develop close meaningful relationships to ensure that you cultivate good mental health.
Find Your Passion Or Start A New Hobby
Knowing your passion or working on a hobby can give you a sense of purpose.
Working towards a hobby is personal and self focused. It’s not a job or chore, just something that you enjoy. This can give you a sense of joy and control over your life.
When you work on your hobby regularly you feel accomplished which in turn makes the activity feel meaningful.
Maybe the hobby is just for fun, or maybe it also happens to be your passion.
Working on your passion brings motivation and gives you something to look forward.
This 2016 study found that those who regularly engaged in artistic hobbies had significantly better mental health than those who were less engaged in a regular hobby.
Finding your passion might seem overwhelming but starting with a simple hobby could give you the motivation you need to find deeper purpose in any activity, interest, or pass time.
Learn To Manage Everyday Stress
As mentioned above prolonged stress has a direct effect on mental wellness. If we are constantly stressed we disrupt hormones that play huge roles in our mental health.
Learning to manage stressors, even micro-stressors are crucial to maintaining and cultivating good mental health.
Something as simple as being late to work, relationship issues and even your morning alarm can trigger a stress response. While the body aims to return to its normal state after a trigger, the problem arises when we continue to experience stressors over and over.
Imagine this, the alarm waking you up is a micro-stressor, so is rushing to work, so is getting stuck in traffic, and getting to work late…any small inconvenience and how you respond to it is a micro-stressor.
When the stress response is going on and on it has less time to return to its normal state. Therefore these seemingly small stressors build up and become chronic stress.
It’s important to find a way to manage stress that works best for you to avoid it affecting your mental health.
Some people find that journaling, meditation and even mindfulness practices help them manage stress .
Whatever you decide, just make sure you are honest with yourself and keep the practices consistent for best results.
Mental wellness is more than just the absence of mental illness. While you might think you’re in the clear because you aren’t on medication, or seeking therapy, there is a huge chance you could be a few micro-stressors away from a mental illness.
It’s important to be open and honest with yourself about how you feel so that you can avoid an unexpected realization that you’re not mentally well.
Keep an eye out on the signs of mental illness. Even if you don’t experience any specific signs, you most likely live a high stress life or experienced some kind of trauma (a global pandemic can be traumatic for most) therefore putting you at risk.
Are you suffering with a mental illness and wished you heard some of this stuff sooner? Don’t worry, it’s never too late to start cultivating mental wellness. You can still take charge and practice the 6 ways, even if you’re on medication or seeking therapy. It will only help.
If you are already working to cultivate good mental health let me know in the comments what you’re doing.
If you haven’t started, what will be the first way you begin?