Updated: Oct 11, 2022
We should stop treating mental health as if it's different from physical health. The body, mind, and spirit are interconnected. When it comes to your weight, the body-mind-spirit connection is especially seen in the medical disease of obesity. So many people only think about food & movement when it comes to weight issues, but unaddressed emotions, trauma, and mental health issues weigh on you.
People with obesity are at higher risk for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Another important finding is the relationship between trauma and increased body fat levels. Specifically, the ACE or Adverse Childhood Experiences Quiz was created in the 1990s by Dr. Robert Anda and Dr. Vincent Felitti. After the doctors found most of the people with severe obesity in their weight loss clinic had been sexually abused as children. The 10-question quiz correlates with an ACE score. The higher your ACE score, the more likely you will have an adverse health outcome. There are significant limitations to the quiz. But knowing your score can be a start to seeing how trauma may be impacting your well-being.
The trauma and depression findings are just one of many reasons why taking care of your M.E.N.T.A.L.H.E.A.L.T.H. is essential to your overall health and wellness.
Here are 12 practical steps you can take to improve your mental health.
Make mental health a priority.
Recently, I had a client telling me, "I have not had a break in 4 weeks. I am so tired most days I can barely stay awake at my computer." I asked them if their leg was bleeding, would they stop working and take care of it? The answer was yes. When we are tired, overwhelmed, irritable, or just plain "stressed out," we are "emotionally bleeding." Still, too often we don't stop to address it. Just like you would stop and focus on an issue with your physical health. Prioritize mental health.
Eight hours of sleep.
Sleep is the body's natural mood stabilizer (and weight loss medication, I might add!). When we sleep, our body regulates and rests on hormonal pathways for our mood regulation. That's why so many mental health conditions impact sleep. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep nightly for optimal health. If you are having difficulty sleeping and home remedies aren't working, see a professional for help. There are a wide variety of treatment options beyond "sleeping pills" to help you.
Nutrition. Eat food that makes you feel good before and AFTER eating.
Food impacts our mood. Regularly eating processed foods can worsen your mood. Foods rich in vitamins, antioxidants or “mood foods” have been shown to improve your mood.
Take a break.
Breaks don't have to be long. While vacations and extended time off are nice, even a one-minute break can help to refresh your mind and give you a break. Build breaks into your day.
Ask for help.
I used to feel "weak" for asking for help. But now I realize that asking for help is my superpower. I can get more done and more effectively when I delegate. I also empower others by teaching them rather than doing everything for them. I've also learned asking for help also teaches you to be comfortable with things not being done "my way." and opens your mind to other possibilities.
Listen to your body.
Our bodies are constantly giving us feedback. However, we've trained ourselves to ignore what our bodies are saying to "just keep going." As you cultivate mental wellness, listen to how your body responds to different situations and thoughts. This awareness helps prevent negative stress and other unhealthy responses from accumulating and impacting your mental health. I've worked with many people who have difficulty acknowledging and admitting they are stressed. Sometimes it takes objectively scoring your stress using a tool like the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory (see resources). Once you are aware of your stress you can properly address it.
Breaking news: You can have a physical illness & a mental health condition at the same time. Again, the body and mind are interconnected. Many physical health conditions can also impact mood and mental health. It's important to get regular health screenings to check for this.
Exercise improves mental health.
Honestly, I just wanted to lose weight when I started regular exercise, or "movement," as I prefer to say, over seven-year ago. However, as an emotional eater triggered by stress, I realized the regular movement sessions were really controlled by stress and anxiety levels. Now I regularly exercise primarily for mental health benefits. This is what keeps me going even though I've been at my happy, healthy weight for years now and the days "I don't feel like going."
Acknowledge your emotions.
Whew! This was a tough one for me. I learned at a very early age to stuff my emotions. I would hold onto things and pretend to be "always happy." Until one day, I would unexpectedly "go off." With therapy and self-reflection, I learned the root was not honoring my true emotions. It takes time to learn your emotions. I recommend the book "Doing My Work Therapy Journal" or "The Self-Help Prescription," both by Dr. Robyn Gobin. She has great resources on emotional wellness and lists of emotions beyond the four basic emotions of "happy," "sad," "anger," and "fear."
Let go of toxicity in your life.
Toxicity shows up in many forms- Internal and externally. Internal toxicity could be negative thoughts or harmful habits. External toxicity could be people, places, or things that aren't helping you reach your goal. The tricky thing about toxicity is that it can be comfortable since that is all we're used to. In order to release it, you must believe that what you will embrace after the toxicity will be so much better.
I always say outside of your Faith, every woman needs three things: a good hairstylist, manicurist, and a therapist. Seriously, a helpful therapist not only provides an unbias sounding board, but they also equip you with tools to navigate emotionally difficult situations.
I highly recommend professional therapy. One warning is that you may not like the first, second, or even third therapist you try. That's okay. Keep trying. It's worth it when you find the right connection. See the resources below for help finding a therapist.
"Hope doesn't disappoint" (Romans 5:5) is one of my favorite Bible verses. Although, I admit, at times I didn't understand it because I've definitely been disappointed before. Through the years, I've come to understand what it means. For me, having my hope in God assures me that “all things work together for my good” (Romans 8:28). Even if you aren’t a Believer, hope is a useful tool in cultivating your mental health because hope can help you persevere during difficu times. When you are feeling overwhelmed on your mental wellness journey, remember never to lose hope. As long as you're still breathing, the possibility of progress.
Mental health is an important topic that must be discussed more openly. The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) aims to do just that by raising awareness about mental health issues and supporting those struggling with their mental health. This year, World Mental Health Day 2022 is October 10th, and the theme is "Make mental health for all a global priority."
Mental health is often seen as taboo, but that needs to change. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and it's time for us to make mental health a global priority. That means breaking down the stigma associated with mental illness. It also means ensuring everyone has access to affordable mental health care.
On World Mental Health Day and everyday let’s prioritize mental health. Mental Health is health.
If you are having a mental health crisis, call 911. Seek immediate medical attention.
National Suicide Prevent Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
To Find A Therapist
Substance Abuse Treatment
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