Healthy Habits for Your Mind

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to discuss the importance of taking preventative steps to maintain mental wellness.

In the same way that you brush your teeth every morning to prevent cavities or get exercise to fend off heart disease, there are things you can do regularly to help develop and maintain mental wellness. While there will always be situations that warrant more focused attention and intervention, these healthy habits can go a long way for many people, even those who aren’t dealing with a mental health condition that rises to the level of needing professional help.

Engaging in positive thinking: Some people find it helpful to take a moment before going to bed to jot down what they’re grateful for, or what they particularly enjoyed that day. Studies have shown that spending time recounting positive experiences can enhance well-being. Focusing on the positives isn’t always easy, but when we get in the habit of seeing the bright side, we often find that our mood improves. Taking a moment at the end of your day to identify what went well is a step in that direction.

Cultivating social support: Humans are social creatures, and spending time with others can go a long way towards mental wellness. We all go through tough times, and having someone to talk to about that difficult day, or celebrate that happy moment with, can be wonderfully rewarding. Current technology makes it easy to meet new people, with sites such as MeetUp and Facebook Groups. Considering how important it is to not feel alone in life, developing and nurturing relationships is a key part of maintaining good mental hygiene. Social support groups can also be particularly helpful when the participants have been through a shared personal experience, such as a group around bereavement or addiction recovery.

Engaging in relaxation or mindfulness activities: This one might seem obvious, but developing a regular practice of relaxation or mindfulness can help manage day-to-day frustrations and also help when a more significant stressor arises. Different people find different activities rewarding. Some people prefer yoga, others mindfulness meditation, and some others might enjoy unwinding during a simple walk with the dog. It might take a little trial and error to find what works for you, and that’s OK.

Keeping track of activities to develop a sense of mastery and purpose: These lists can take a lot of different forms, depending on your needs and goals. Sometimes when life gets stressful it can be easy to lose track of things. Using lists can help you stay on top of day-to-day tasks. Additionally, after you’ve ticked off your list of to-dos, these can do double duty as a list of accomplishments. Journaling can also be helpful, and give you the space you need to take a few moments to reflect on your goals and values.

One of the things which drew me to psychology (as compared to other health specialties) was the fact that you can’t always visibly see what’s going on with a person, and the very significant variations that exist between individuals. Unfortunately, this “invisibility” can sometimes mean that problems go unidentified until they have escalated. Regularly checking in with yourself and thinking about where you’re at mentally can be helpful to address these potential issues before they become more serious.

Self-care and good preventative mental hygiene is particularly important for individuals who regularly have a high “helping quotient” such as parents of small children, caregivers, and even mental health providers. Anyone who has flown on an airplane has heard that “you need to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs”, and this adage is definitely also true when it comes to maintaining mental wellness. So, today, take a moment to attend to your own mental hygiene. You’ll thank yourself later.

Pacifica’s suite of tools are ideally suited to help people stay on top of their mental health and take positive steps to maintain their wellness. Tools include gratitude journaling, peer support communities, relaxation and meditation activities, goal setting, and much more. During Mental Health Month, you can get 50% off a Premium subscription to Pacifica when you upgrade on our website using the code MHMONTH2017. Log in at thinkpacifica.com to upgrade.

5 Diet Tips for Anxiety

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Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. It helps one deal with a tense situation in the office, study harder for an exam, or remain focused on an important speech. In general, it helps one cope with the tasks and demands of everyday life. But when anxiety becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can become a disabling disorder. Fortunately, effective treatments for anxiety disorders are available that can help most people with anxiety disorders lead productive and fulfilling lives. However, studies have shown that having a healthy diet may reduce signs and symptoms of anxiety. Although food can’t cure an anxiety disorder, consider some diet changes and that would benefit a severely anxious person:

Avoid or limit caffeine intake as much as possible. Caffeine is present in many soft drinks, not just in tea and coffee and it can set up its own vicious cycle. It can speed up heart rate and disrupt sleep – which later on become prevailing signs of anxiety. Trying to overcome tiredness by drinking more caffeine only makes the long-term problem worse.

Avoid too much alcohol. Similarly, alcohol can worsen the symptoms of anxiety, and disrupt sleep. Many people reach for a drink to calm their nerves, but the consequences of overindulgence can outweigh the benefits of initial relaxation. For some, a hangover, insomnia, and dehydration make one feel worse than before one had a drink. In excessive amounts, alcohol can actually act as a depressant, making the drinker feel sluggish or more anxious. Alcohol, like a simple sugar, is rapidly absorbed by the body. Like other sugars, alcohol increases hypoglycemia symptoms. It also causes mood swings.

Eat complex carbohydrates, also known as carbs. During anxious times, turn to comforting carbs. These foods act as a mild tranquilizer by increasing the amount of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter in the brain. Complex carbs such as potatoes, wholewheat bread, and pasta take longer to digest than sugary simple carbs like white bread. That way, one can stay fuller longer and blood sugar is likely to stay steady, eliminating stress and anxiety.

Be sure to drink eight or more glasses of water a day. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches and stress. One should be well-hydrated and drinking lots of water a day can decrease symptoms of anxiety.

Take multivitamins and mineral supplements. B vitamins, whose role is to unlock the energy in food, are crucial. Vitamin B-6 helps manufacture serotonin in the brain. Choose a daily supplement that supplies 100 per cent of the daily recommendation of all vitamins and minerals.

Although tension and daily stresses are unavoidable, one can relieve tension and manage stress and anxiety better by watching out for what one eats and what one does not eat. Remember that a healthy body and a healthy mind are often one and the same thing.

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