Flex Your Mental Health

By Sarah Kelly

It’s just as important to keep in shape mentally as it is physically. When people hear the term mental health, it’s natural to think of illness or disorders such as depression, anxiety or bipolarism. However, mental health is much more than illness. Mental health is your overall psychological well being--it’s how you think, feel and behave. Th e mind and body are connected. The quality of a person’s mental health can impact their overall health. Mental health impacts the immune system, heart health and chronic pain. Past studies focused on the negative impact of mental illness on the body, but now data shows that positive thoughts and mental wellness can have a large impact, too. Research published from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that positive psychological well being may actually reduce the risk of heart disease. Mental health is also directly tied to resilience, which is the ability to overcome adversity. In recovery, we’ve all overcome and bounced back from a level of despair that seemed hopeless. Your recovery story can be the foundation to apply resilience in other aspects of your life. You already know what it’s like to try something different and work toward a solution. You can apply the tools you are learning in recovery to improving your mental health.

Positive thinking

It’s a common misconception that positive thinking means that you are happy all of the time. Positive thinking is about learning how to build awareness, overcome and bounce back. It does not mean that you never have negative thoughts or feelings, nor does it mean you should ignore those negative thoughts or feelings. Positive thinking is about giving space to feel the emotion, accept it for what it is, and take action to move forward. It is trusting that there is a solution and working toward it. Your first thought or feeling cannot be controlled; it is a natural human reaction. You can have control of what comes next. It’s important to take a moment to pause. As humans, we are actually hardwired to detect threat and negative circumstances for survival. It’s instinct. Th e power of pause is so powerful because it gives us that moment to override instinct and have a choice. You can feed the story line negatively to create more pain, or you can stop the story line and go straight to the solution. Learning to pause negative self-talk is the first step toward positive thinking.

Take care of your body

There is a growing amount of evidence that adequate sleep, a nutritious diet and moving your body will all help improve your mental health. Sleep is vital to good physical and mental health. It’s the time where we process our day and restore our brains and our bodies. Inadequate sleep can lead to riskier decisions and poor outcomes. Adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Th e food you eat is your body’s fuel. While there is no specific onesize-fits-all diet plan, aim towards a diet with a large variety of vegetables, protein, grains and fruit. It’s important to notice how your food is affecting your mood. Start being mindful of how you feel in the moment and over the next 24 hours.

There’s an old saying in recovery, “move a muscle, change a thought.” Physical exercise is key to good mental health. In addition to the positive hormones that it releases, it directly impacts the brain’s ability to process information and remain flexible. Exercise also decreases the symptoms of depression and anxiety. You can also keep your brain flexible with mental exercises. Keep your brain active by reading, doing puzzles, or getting involved in an activity you love. Stimulating your brain helps your overall wellness.

Reach out for help

If you are struggling with mental illness, it’s important to seek help. For many people in recovery, it is necessary to connect with additional resources outside of recovery programs to work through mental health concerns. Make sure to let other people know what is going on and connect to someone who can help you, like a counselor, therapist, psychiatrist or coach. It’s also important to remember that focusing on positive thinking and mental well being doesn’t come always easily. Just like when you start anything new, it takes practice and time to get better at flexing your mental health muscles.

Cultivating Positive Thinking

Practice Affirmations:

Say positive, self-empowering statements daily to yourself holding your hands to heart, like in prayer, as a sign of radical self-acceptance. (Example: I am worthy of love.).

Gratitude:

Write down three to five things daily that you are grateful for in your life.

Be of service:

Sign-up for volunteer work, give back to your community and/ or practice random acts of kindness.

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