Clearly, all these things are very important.
If you’re like most people, however, the word health has basically the same meaning as physical health to you.
As such, there’s a huge aspect of your overall wellbeing that you’re missing out on: mental health!
This comes through no fault of your own – unfortunately, society has tended to minimize the importance of mental health, or otherwise treat it as something that shouldn’t be openly discussed.
In this post, we’re going to describe just how important your mental health actually is.
Read on to learn how the state of your mental health actually lies at the center of your life, why you should promote good mental health, and how you can achieve it.
First, though, let’s take a look at what we mean by “good mental health.”
What Does Good Mental Health Mean?
Good mental health means being able to deal with stressors in a healthy way. It means being able to positively process those stressors and not self-medicate through drugs, alcohol, or other self-destructive habits.
Good mental health means being able to find meaning in life, enjoy hobbies, and feel accomplished when meeting goals at work.
Ultimately, good mental health means being able to live your life the way you want to – your best life – and not be held back by overwhelming levels of sadness, anxiety, or self-doubt. It means being calm, happy, and confident.
Many think of “good mental health” as not having an anxiety disorder, or suffering from depression, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Think about this concept in terms of wellness, rather than illness:
Good mental health is a state where your brain works for you, not against you, and who wouldn’t want that?
How Is Mental Health Measured?
So, how do you know if you have good mental health?
Well, there are a few clinical tests that specifically measure it, such as this one offered by Psychology Today.
But let’s take a look at some of the common symptoms that show you stand to benefit by looking after your mental health.
For one, maybe you notice yourself feeling lethargic, as if you’re just going through the motions in life. You no longer have as much passion for reaching your goals – you might not even feel motivated to get out of bed in the morning.
Maybe you start to feel guilty or worthless, blaming yourself for your feelings of unhappiness.
You may lose interest in hobbies or might find yourself having extreme, angry reactions to little things that get on your nerves and so arguing with loved ones. Maybe you cry excessively while hearing a sad song or watching a sad movie, or even for no apparent reason at all.
Sleep is another thing that can be affected by poor mental health – you might sleep way too much, or sleep too little.
Chronic worry is not only a cause of poor mental health but also a symptom. You have may have pathological worry (i.e., worry that is damaging to you) about things or even start catastrophizing.
Catastrophizing is where you blow concerns out of proportion. For example, you might worry one little slip-up may lead to you losing your job, or ruin a relationship beyond repair.
Of course, none of the symptoms above have to occur together and are just examples of some common signs your mental health could use a boost.
Mental wellbeing is not something that has clear, diagnostic criteria like depression or social anxiety disorder, but you’ll probably notice something’s “different” if you’re dealing with poor mental health.
If you just don’t feel like you used to, feel “out of sorts” and unproductive, there’s a good chance poor mental health is the culprit.
How Many People Struggle With Mental Health?
If any of the above feelings are familiar to you, you’re certainly not alone:
Nearly half of American adults (46.4 %)will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life, according to Mental Health First Aid.
Don’t be scared by that term, by the way – “mental illness” doesn’t mean a person is “crazy,” just that there could be some dysfunction brought on by fatigue that needs to be resolved.
According to Johns Hopkins, around 26 % of people 18 and older in the United States are dealing with diagnosable mental illnesses. That’s 1 in every 4 people!
If you know at least four people – which you probably do – you most likely know someone who struggles with anxiety or depression, even if you aren’t aware of it.
At the end of the day, it’s important for everyone to understand that mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of, and searching for help – whether that’s through modifying your habits or seeking out a professional – shows strength, not weakness.
How does mental health affect physical health?
Mental health affects the state of your body in more ways than one – in fact, it can wreak havoc when left unchecked.
For one, stress can mess with the body’s immune system and trigger outbreaks of autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis. It’s also been shown to worsen asthma, another disease that may have an autoimmune link.
Did you know that stressed-out people are actually more likely to get colds? That’s because those with chronic stress have weakened immune systems and are so more likely to get sick.
Weight gain is one other symptom of stress. Stress stimulates the production of cortisol. High levels of cortisol can actually increase the amount of belly fat you have, probably because the body is understanding the stress as a danger and preparing for it.
Of course, obesity comes with a whole bunch of health problems of its own, such as type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes itself can be worsened by stress, through triggering excessive glucose production.
Depression, on the other hand, can lead to stomach problems such as constipation or nausea, possibly due to the “gut-brain” connection. Depressed people may experience aches all over their bodies, too.
Anxiety and depression can have an adverse effect on the functioning of the heart – a study demonstrated that older people with these conditions were 65 percent more likely to have heart problems.
As you can see, mental health and physical health are two sides of the same coin – paying attention to one means paying attention to the other, as you’ll see more below.
How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health?
Sleep is linked directly to both mental and physical health. In those with depression, around 75 % have insomnia, while others have hypersomnia (excessive sleep). Naturally, lack of sleep makes people irritable and more anxious, too.
As such, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body.
We realize this is easier said than done, especially if you’re dealing with stress and anxiety – a vicious circle is created whereby lack of sleep creates more stress, stress leads to less sleep, and on and on.
The first thing you should try to do is go to bed and get out of bed at the same time every day – even if you feel like you haven’t had enough sleep, get up and you’ll feel tired at that time (say, 11 PM) that you set for yourself. This will also help with hypersomnia, but you have to commit to it!
Don’t take naps, and avoid eating large amounts of food before bed (digestion keeps your body active).
Insomnia presents a paradox – the harder you try to fall asleep, the less likely you will be to fall asleep. Therefore, if there’s one piece of advice we can offer, it’s don’t try too hard to fall asleep – don’t pressure yourself to fall asleep, but rather let it come to you. This is a sort of mindful approach that can work wonders.
How To Fix Mental Health?
Getting your sleep in order just one of many things you can do to repair your mental health.
Exercise is another – one study reported that those who exercised for 150 minutes per week had lower levels of anxiety and depression. The exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous, by the way.
150 minutes each week translates to a bit more than 20 minutes each day or 30 minutes on weekdays alone. Consider going for a walk, doing some jumping jacks, or even just stretching.
Practices like yoga, meditation, or tai chi have been proven to reduce stress and increase feelings of wellbeing.
A balanced, healthy diet is also essential. Pay attention to the food pyramid and “healthy eating plate”, which you can find here – obviously, you’ll want to avoid packing your diet with sugary and fatty foods
Watch out for caffeine as well, since it can increase feelings of anxiety Even if you’re not abusing it, alcohol can have negative effects on your mental health. Most famously, alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows down the functioning of your nervous system.
Black and green teas contain the amino acid known as L-theanine. L-theanine has been shown to reduce feelings of stress and improve sleep.
Be sure to reach out to trusted friends or family members if you’re having a tough time – getting your feelings out through conversation can be cathartic, whereas keeping them in will just worsen your mental health.
If you do think you have a diagnosable condition such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or bipolar disorder, it’s important to confirm this by visiting a professional.
While the other things on this list may help improve the symptoms of such conditions, only the help of a mental health professional will ensure the condition is fully treated.
How Often Should You Take A Mental Health Day?
One other way you can look after your mental health is by taking “mental health days” – in other words, taking a day off from work to simply relax and recuperate.
Morale is important – if you’re not feeling well-rested, you won’t be as productive or produce as high-quality work.
Try not to feel guilty if taking a mental health day – you know if you really need it or not.
In fact, by taking the occasional mental health day, you are actually ensuring you get more done and so are actually being the opposite of “lazy.”
While there’s no set amount of mental health days you should or shouldn’t take, allowing yourself a day or two to relax once every few months – if you have the days to take – is a reasonable idea.
These days will function as a mental “fine-tuning” that make you much happier and optimize your performance.
You should schedule these days ahead of time so that you can reorganize your work schedule and get everything done in less amount of time – you don’t want to add the stress of worrying about that to a mental health day.
Alternatively, you can simply call in sick the day of, or have a frank conversation with your boss provided she or he is a more understanding person.
What Does it Mean to Be Mentally and Emotionally Healthy in Family and Society?
Having good mental health will protect your relationships with loved ones:
As we mentioned earlier, stress can heighten responses – in other words, when you’re stressed out, little things tend to annoy you more. Think about how many arguments you’ve been in with loved ones over something silly because you were stressed out. Those wounds take time to heal.
The better your mental health, the more you will be available and helpful to friends and family members. You’ll be able to think more clearly to help them with their problems and react better if they say something nasty to you.
This applies not only to friends and family members but society at large – good mental health helps make the world a more peaceful place by defusing arguments before they start.
Since good mental health means more productivity, you’ll be getting more done at work and so contributing more to society.
We hope we’ve shown how taking care of your mental health can and will change your life for the better. Follow some of the steps laid out above, or contact a professional, to start reaping the benefits.
Don’t forget: your brain is an organ, too, so why wouldn’t you look after it just like your heart or lungs? Just as your brain is at the center of the functioning of your body, it’s also at the center of the functioning of your life. Give it the attention it deserves!