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4 Habits to Achieve Better Mental Health

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The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that one in every five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. This number adds up to nearly 50 million people. Sadly, these numbers likely underestimate the extent of the problem.

Why is mental health important? A bit of a rhetorical question, right?

Clearly, mental health directly affects the quality of our life. Our mental health determines our productivity, feelings of self-worth, confidence, and skillfulness in navigating life’s inevitable challenges. Good mental health maximizes all of these things; poor mental health minimizes them.

If we’re stricken with poor mental health, it becomes impossible to experience life optimally. Without proper treatment or guidance – medical or otherwise – most watch as their life takes a turn for the worst. That’s because the state of our mind impacts both our life – both personally and professionally.

Fortunately, we can improve our mental health. Better yet, we needn’t rely on copious amounts of pharmaceutical drugs to do so (as valuable as these can be at times.)

In this article, we’re going to discuss four habits that can lead to better mental health.

Let’s get to it!

POOR MENTAL HEALTH HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PROBLEM

“ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder], anxiety, depression … can be thought of as problems that have existed – and been ignored – for years.”  ~ Paul Hammerness, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

While the catalysts of mental illness have changed, poor mental health has probably been a thing since homo sapiens first walked the primordial Earth.

Whereas in days of yore humans were concerned about wild animal attacks and having enough food, today we’re fretting about time, money, family, and career. Most likely, a combination of all these things.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

There is something that connects these two distinct periods, however: the brain.

Neuroscientists state that the structure of the human brain has remained mostly unchanged over the past 500,000 years. Ten thousand years ago, our brains actually shrank. The past century has resulted in a “brain size rebound,” a byproduct of better nutrition and less disease brought on by the industrial revolution.

We can attribute some of the more modern mental illnesses – anxiety and depression, mainly – to the brain’s relatively static development. The harsh living conditions of our distant ancestors required an ever-alert brain mechanism that could quickly respond to threatening stimuli.

Brain experts call this mechanism the Fight-or-Flight response. Others call it hyperarousal or acute stress response.

The ‘FoF’ response is critical to human survival, even now. If you’ve ever been in a situation of sudden, extreme danger – and had to take quick action to ensure your survival – then you’ve had first-hand experience with the FoF response.

The truth is that we’ve all had, to a greater or lesser degree, some experience with FoF. If you’ve ever suffered from an anxiety disorder, you felt the constant agitation. If you’ve ever had to act to avoid danger, you’ve felt the flood of adrenaline that accompanies FoF activation.

In all of these situations, you no doubt noticed an involuntary, unconscious state of arousal. That’s the FoF. Early humans, no doubt, also saw the unpleasantness associated with an overactive FoF response – which was passed along to us.

THE CAUSE OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

While FoF plays a significant role in the state of our mental health, it’s far from the only influencer.

Neurotransmitters, chemicals that act as signaling molecules in the brain, also have a substantial effect on our mental health. While scientists posited this correlation a long time ago, it wasn’t until recently that SPECT imaging studies all but confirmed the relationship.

Any imbalance of the four primary neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and GABA – can lead to sub-optimal mental states, possibly mental illness.

mindfulness

4 HABITS THAT IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH

“You have the power over your mind – not outside events. 

Realize this, and you will find strength.” 

~ Marcus Aurelius

1 – OBSERVE YOUR MIND

Metacognition is actively observing your mental processes and understanding habitual emotional reactive patterns. It’s also a crucial component of good mental health.

If you’ve ever sat back and wondered why in the heck your mind is making so much noise, then you know what metacognition is. You’ve also made a crucial and potentially life-changing discovery: you are not your mind or feelings.

Rather, you are the awareness behind the thoughts and feelings. When you recognize and embrace this fact, you can observe the activity of our mind at a distance – as a passive ‘witness.’ You may even start to get curious about the inner-workings of your mind, and it’s this attitude that will lead to a transformation.

While it’s possible to observe your mind amid daily life, it’s often difficult – especially at first. This is where a regular meditation practice can help.

Try taking 15-20 minutes at the start of each day to sit and allow your mind to become quiet.

2 – SLOW DOWN

“The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.” ~ Lao-tzu

Okay, so this sounds like commonsensical gibberish nonsense. “What? Slow down? That’s it?”

Okay, then why do we fail at things repeatedly?

Reason #1: society has taught us that frenzied action is the same as productivity. Not only is this untrue, but it’s also potentially disastrous to our mental and physical health.

Slowing down – more specifically, not rushing – can have a powerful impact on our state of mind. Things still get accomplished, and with much less stress. Often, you’ll find that slowing down and focusing on one task at a time (see ‘Single-tasking’ next) not only improves the quality of your work but, ironically, can increase the pace at which things get done!

Practice performing one task a day slowly. Put all of your attention on the job – washing the dishes, showering, vacuuming, etc. – and while doing the activity gradually and deliberately.

3 – SINGLE TASK

“He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else.”   ~ Charles Dickens

Few things have been more damaging to our state of mind than multitasking. How harmful is it? Well, per a study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, participants who multitasked using multiple forms of entertainment media “showed symptoms of anxiety and depression” based on mental health surveys.

Did you get that? Multitasking – even with entertainment – causes symptoms that mimic those of anxiety and depression!

The truth of the matter is that not only is multitasking a myth; it’s also stress-inducing and harmful.

The human brain simply is not meant for multitasking. When we perform a job, our neural circuitry is concentrated around that task – and that task only. It is incapable of diverting mental resources to a secondary task.

Unless, say, we’re talking about chewing gum and walking at the same time.

Instead, make it a habit to focus your attention single-mindedly on each task. Not only is this a more effective way of living, but it’s also much more peaceful.

4 – BE COMPASSIONATE TOWARDS YOURSELF

“If compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”  ~ Jack Kornfield

Most people have good hearts. Although the media may try to convince you otherwise (their motto is “Bad news sells” after all) there is plenty of good happening in the world.

Since most people have good hearts, most of us are compassionate by nature. When someone is visibly hurting, we will often try to comfort and console.

But one problem that so many of us have is this: we don’t extend our compassionate nature to ourselves.

Indeed, each one of us is our own worst critic. We don’t even think about self-compassion. Many people live their entire lives without ever once practicing self-love or compassion.

To deny yourself some compassion is not only wrong; it is harmful to your mental wellbeing.

How do you practice self-compassion? Try picturing yourself as a child. If you have a picture of when you were a kid, take a good look at it.

Would you ever want this individual to suffer? Of course not. Talk to that inner child with compassion and love. How do you feel during and afterward?

FINAL THOUGHTS ON IMPROVING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
In short, you hold the key to unlocking better mental health right there in your hand. All that’s left for you is to flick open that lock.

mindfulness

Mindfulness Improves as We Age

New research may provide an answer for why many people say life gets better with age. A new study by Australian investigators suggests this may be because older people have the wisdom and time to use mindfulness as a means to improve wellbeing.
Healthy aging researchers at Flinders University say certain characteristics of mindfulness seem more strongly evident in older people compared to younger people. The new findings may help people of all ages better deal with life circumstances.
Mindfulness refers to the natural human ability to be aware of one’s experiences and to pay attention to the present moment in a purposeful, receptive and non-judgmental way. Using mindful techniques can be instrumental in reducing stress and promoting positive psychological outcomes.
From middle age to old age, the Flinders University survey highlights the tendency to focus on the present-moment. The strategy to adopt a non-judgmental orientation may become especially important for well-being with advancing age.

“This suggests that mindfulness may naturally develop with time and life experience,” says behavioral scientist Associate Professor Tim Windsor. Windsor co-authored the study which was based on an online community survey of 623 participants, aged between 18 and 86 years.

The study, ‘Older and more mindful? Age differences in mindfulness components and well-being,’ appears online in Aging and Mental Health.

“The significance of mindfulness for wellbeing may also increase as we get older, in particular the ability to focus on the present moment and to approach experiences in a non-judgmental way.

“These characteristics are helpful in adapting to age-related challenges and in generating positive emotions.”

In one of the first age-related studies of its kind, the researchers assessed participants’ mindful qualities such as present-moment attention, acceptance, non-attachment and examined the relationships of these qualities with wellbeing more generally.

“The ability to appreciate the temporary nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for the way people manage their day-to-day goals across the second half of life,” says study lead author Leeann Mahlo. Mahlo is investigating mindfulness in older adulthood as part of her PhD research.

“We found that positive relationships between aspects of mindfulness and wellbeing became stronger from middle age onwards,” she says.“Our findings suggest that if mindfulness has particular benefits in later life, this could be translated into tailored training approaches to enhanced wellbeing in older populations.”

Mindfulness skills can help build wellbeing at any age, adds Mahlo. Tips to develop mindful techniques include:
• Becoming aware of our thoughts and surroundings and paying attention to the present moment in an open and nonjudgmental way. This can prevent us from focusing on the past or worrying about the future in unhelpful ways.
• Understanding that our thoughts, feelings and situations exist in the moment and will not last. This can help us to respond in flexible, more optimistic ways to challenging circumstances, including those that we are facing with concerns related to COVID-19.
• Finding out more about mindfulness via app-based programs such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe & Think. These are available for use on computers or smartphones and offer flexible ways of learning and practicing mindfulness — including for people now spending more time at home.
By Rick Nauert PhD             Associate News Editor   Apr 2020
Source:   Flinders University/EurekAlert   psychcentral.com

One thought on “4 Habits to Achieve Better Mental Health

  1. Nature and sportz also help get balanced and refreshed energy …

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