by Jon Beaty
How to Protect Your Mental Health
If you haven’t taken steps to protect your mental health, your risk of developing mental illness is higher than it needs to be.
We all know people who suffer from mental disorders. You may have already suffered, or still suffer from our own mental illness. But, if you’re fortunate enough to have been spared from mental illness, don’t let your guard down.
None of us is immune to mental illness.None of us is immune to #mentalillness. 6 proactive steps to protect your #mentalhealth. Click To Tweet
I endured personal struggles with mental illness at a time when I was trying to launch a career as a mental health therapist. A difficult childhood. A troubled marriage. Dissatisfaction with work. Lack of sleep. Poor nutrition. They piled up and left me depressed.
Most people will go to great lengths to avoid admitting something’s wrong in their brain. They’ll minimize it, denying anything is wrong until they can’t hide it anymore.
I did that.
It doesn’t have to be that way. But, in our culture, mental illness still carries a stigma.
Awareness of mental illness has grown, but many people still suffer in silence. Their illness remains a dark secret. They fake a smile, act “normal,” and sometimes hold down a job, while their inner world is in turmoil.
I’ve been shocked more than once when someone I knew committed suicide. This ultimate act of despair is too common.
We need to stop brushing signs of mental illness under the rug as if they’ll just go away. Mental illness is at epidemic levels. Even with the proliferation of pharmaceutical treatments designed to improve mental health, the prevalence of mental illness is at its highest levels in known history, and greatest in the most developed countries.
All of us are at risk of mental illness. Some are at greater risk because of their genetic inheritance. Others are at risk because of damage to their brain, or abuse and attacks on their sanity. And some are at risk because of exposure to destructive toxins.
In my own experience with mental illness, I turned to a helpful psychologist to start on a path to better health. Many people find talking with a professional counselor helpful. Medication can also reduce the effects of debilitating symptoms.
But’ whether you’ve experienced mental illness or not, there are steps you can take to strengthen your brain, increase your happiness, and have a thriving life. Psychotherapy and medication by themselves may keep the illness from getting worse. For the person still struggling with mental illness, these steps can help you recover, and enjoy life. For the person free of mental illness, these steps can protect your mental health.
1. Discover your story.
God brings each of us into this world as part of a story. Discovering your place in this story gives your life meaning. Meaning is essential to well-being.
Without meaning and purpose, we wander aimlessly, become disillusioned, and increase our risk for illness and an early death. One study revealed that a strong sense of purpose lowers the risk of death by 20 percent! Other studies have linked a sense of purpose to lower stress levels, greater ability to bounce back from traumatic experiences, and protection against Alzheimer’s.
Discover your place in the universe. Join a cause greater than yourself.
2. Cultivate positive relationships.
We are designed for positive relationships. We thrive when we surround ourselves with people who encourage the best in us.
Take note of these facts from research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences:
When we surround ourselves with friends whose moods are more positive than negative, we strengthen our resistance to depression.
If we’re already depressed and surround ourselves with positive relationships, we double the chance of recovery.
Join communities that possess positive attributes you’d like to cultivate in your own life.
3. Enjoy nature.
Humans were designed to thrive in outdoor green spaces. Most of us spend the majority of our lives shut away from the natural world. But God didn’t design humans to be stuck in a chair all day, crowded into a cubicle, hunched over a desk, or shut up in a classroom.
People who routinely access green spaces report less mental distress and higher life satisfaction.
Make a habit of getting outside at least once a day where you can enjoy trees, oceans and streams, flowers, green grass, or a garden.
4. Eat well.
When God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He provided everything they needed to flourish, including edible plants for their nutrition. In 2012, researchers at Dartmouth University revealed that fruit and vegetable consumption are directly correlated with psychological well-being, more than the effect of being unemployed. They recommend between 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies a day.
There’s plenty of evidence on the negative effects of processed food, and the benefits of whole foods. This evidence often focuses on the benefits to the heart, and hips. But whatever nutritional damage or repair we do to our body has a direct impact on the health of our brain.
Discover and dine daily on the foods you need for optimal health.
5. Sleep well.
The brain repairs itself in sleep. Anything less than seven hours of sleep at night impairs the brain’s ability to produce the hormones that help us resist the negative effects of stress, think clearly, and experience positive emotions.
Guard your sleeping hours and learn and put into practice what helps you get the most restful sleep.
6. Receive and give love.
Love is the essential energy that drives the human soul. Unlike many other mammals, human children are designed to be nurtured in a loving family, by their parents, until they reach adulthood.
Regardless of the culture they grow up in, children who feel rejected by their parents, especially by their fathers, feel greater anxiety, insecurity, and aggression toward others than children who feel loved by their parents. These feelings often linger into adulthood.
Even with parents who gave their best, many of us entered adulthood feeling an emptiness at our core, myself included. Many of us have turned to other relationships or addictions to fill the emptiness we feel. That experience left deep and open wounds.
God is the ultimate source of love. A thriving life depends on our ability to receive God’s love, and give it away.
Nothing reveals God’s love and how to receive it better than the life and death of Jesus Christ. His life of generous giving is a model for us to follow.
Immerse yourself in your favorite Gospel story until it ignites a warm glow inside of you. Then share that glow with others.
There’s a growing body of research that shows a positive correlation between acts of kindness and better health. For example, more than one study has shown that charitable acts reduce the negative effects of stress on our physical health.
We were designed to give love as much as we receive it. When we do, life improves for others as much as it does for the giver.
What are you doing to protect your mental health? Share with a comment below.
Jon Beaty is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in mental health care. For fun, he and his family keep Boer goats and honeybees on their mini-farm in Estacada, Oregon. Jon is author of the book If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work. A free sample is available
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