Prevention: Caring for our mental wellness preemptively
While there’s no one right way to care for our mental wellness preemptively, how about we start with 3 things that we can do today to care for our mental wellness?
1. Move your body
No, this doesn’t mean you head to the closest spin studio and drop hundreds of dollars on an unlimited membership, and this doesn’t mean you sign up for a half marathon race. (Though if exercise is already part of your life, perhaps it does!) Moving your body can truly be as simple as standing up from your desk chair once an hour or taking a walk around the block between conference calls or stretching when you wake up in the morning. Movement delivers more oxygen to the brain, reduces stress, and has the added benefit of getting you out of that midday work funk we so often find ourselves in.
2. Eat something nourishing
Just like movement, we start small. This is not a prescription for a diet, nor is it a meal plan. It’s a simple directive: eat one nourishing food today. Maybe that’s something colorful, like a fruit or veggie, or maybe it’s something packed with protein, or maybe it’s even just something with less sugar than normal. When we shift our understanding of food into something that fuels these amazing bodies of ours, this can help us break through old habits and feelings of resistance around what we put in our bodies. Overall physical health supports overall mental health—there’s even emerging research about how your digestive biome (um… stomach bacteria, basically) plays a role in mental health. Eat that sauerkraut!
3. Get an extra 30 minutes of sleep tonight
Start small: bump up bedtime by just a few minutes or eliminate a pre-work chore tomorrow morning so you can get half an hour of extra sleep. Poor sleep and lack of sleep are linked with a multitude of poor health outcomes, and that includes our mental health. We’re still working to understand the exact mechanisms at work, but we know that sleep disruptions are both a cause of and caused by mental health disorders. Neurotransmitters and stress hormones, in particular, are deeply impacted by sleep deprivation, and these factors have a substantial impact on the brain and emotional regulation.
Caring for our mental wellness preemptively is an ongoing process; we do not simply achieve a lifetime of mental wellness by getting a few more zzz’s tonight. Consider your mental wellness like a piggy bank, and every good brain-deed a dollar: the more we put in on a regular basis, the more we have to draw from in a crisis. When we consistently care for our mental wellness, we have a sturdier reserve to call on when challenges arise.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, June 8). Mental illness. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/symptoms-causes/syc-20374968.
Miller, K. (2021, June 12). The Benefits of Mental Health According to Science. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-mental-health/.
Sleep and Mental Health - Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Health. (2019, March 18). https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health.
The Brain-Gut Connection. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection.