Health, in all areas, is a continuum. Nobody is perfectly healthy in every aspect. However, finding health in the four main dimensions of your life – biophysical, psychological, social, and spiritual – is the best way to maintain wellness and stop problems before they begin.

BioPhysical

Healthy Diet

The brain is the control center of the body. In order for it to grow and develop the way it needs to, it has to have the right nutrients provided by a balanced and healthy diet. The brain is also a muscle, thus to be truly healthy it needs to be exercised.

  • Stress: Excessive stress has shown to “alter brain cells, brain structure and brain function.”
  • Physical illness: The connection between body and mind is a strong given. One estimate is that between 50-70% of visits to the doctor for physical ailments are attributed to psychological factors.

According to MyPlate.gov, here is how to build a healthy eating style:

  • Focus on making healthy food and beverage choices from all five food groups including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy to get the nutrients you need.
  • Eat the right amount of calories for you based on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.
  • Building a healthier eating style can help you avoid overweight and obesity and reduce your risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
  • Use Nutrition Facts labels and ingredient lists to find amounts of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars in the foods and beverages you choose.
  • Look for food and drink choices that are lower in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
  • Eating fewer calories from foods high in saturated fat and added sugars can help you manage your calories and prevent overweight and obesity. Most of us eat too many foods that are high in saturated fat and added sugar.
  • Eating foods with less sodium can reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

Regular Exercise

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Get Moving! Exercising is essential for total-body wellness, including mental wellness. We’ve all heard the fact that exercising pumps us full of endorphins, which literally make us happy and fights off problems such as Depression, so it should not come as a surprise that moving your body improves a multitude of brain functions.

The golden duo of exercise is to work both your body and your mind.

Body Exercises

  • In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.
  • Aerobic exercise is great for body and brain: not only does it improve brain function, but it also acts as a “first aid kit” on damaged brain cells.
  • Exercising in the morning before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also produces increased retention of new information, and better reaction to complex situations.
  • When looking to change up your work out, look for an activity that incorporates coordination along with cardiovascular exercise, such as a dance class.
  • If you like crunching time at the gym alone, opt for circuit work outs, which both quickly spike your heart rate, but also constantly redirect your attention.
  • Lifting weights equal to what you are able to do.

Mind Exercises

  • Complete a daily brain game, such as Sudoku
  • Learn something new. Try reading a random Wikipedia article.
  • Try to solve as many simple math questions as possible within 60 seconds.
  • Write (instead of type) in a journal or diary, even if it’s just a couple of sentences.
  • Utilize brain game websites and cell phone apps such as Lumosity.com
  • Meditate
  • Pray

Restful Sleep

When we sleep, it is our body’s time to recharge. In the same way that an electronic toy does not work properly when it is not powered up, we don’t work properly when we are missing out on sleep, or suffering from restless sleep.

Here are 10 signs that you may be sleep deprived:

  1. You’re always hungry. Because your body is not getting the energy it needs from sleep, it will try to get that energy in other places, such as extra calories.
  2. You’ve gained weight. With increased appetite comes increased weight gain.
  3. You’re more impulsive. When sleep deprived, you’re exhausted, and the added effort of saying “no” becomes too hard.
  4. Your memory is shot. When you’re tired, you’re usually not paying attention to what is going on, and you tend to forget things.
  5. You’re having trouble making decisions. Again, when you’re tired, the ability to decide can seem too difficult.
  6. Your motor skills are off. When tired, there is a lapse in how you neurologically function.
  7. Your emotions are all over the place. Emotional regulation is difficult when you’re lacking sleep.
  8. You get sick often. Sleep is vital to our immune system. When our sleep suffers, our ability to fight off infections suffer.
  9. You’re having trouble seeing. When fatigued, you can’t control your eye muscles as well as when you are well rested.
  10. Your skin isn’t looking good. They call it “beauty sleep” for a reason.

Avoid Substances

Illegal drugs – and even some legal ones – can have terrible consequences on mental wellness. Alcohol, for example, is an addictive depressant.

If you are relying on any substances, or experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, reach out to a local substance abuse help group. It is impossible to experience mental wellness while struggling with addiction.

Psychological

Self-Care, Mindfulness, and Grounding

Self Care in health refers to the activities individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health. Self-Care exercises are also known as Mindfulness or Grounding Techniques, and are usually used to de-stress, relax, or otherwise make yourself feel good.

Self-Care is individualistic, meaning it is different for everyone. It is suggested that everyone spend a minimum of a half hour a day engaging in self-care.

Self-Care is divided into seven different types of exercises. Here are some examples:

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Sensory

When you feel stressed, calm down by focusing on the sensations around you – sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touch. This will help you focus on the present moment.

  • Breathe in fresh air
  • Snuggle under a cozy blanket
  • Listen to running water
  • Take a hot shower or warm bath
  • Get a massage
  • Cuddle with a pet
  • Burn a scented candle
  • Wiggle your bare feet in the grass
  • Listen to music
  • Listen to your breathing

Pleasure

Engaging in an activity that you enjoy

  • Take yourself out to eat
  • Garden
  • Watch a movie
  • Do a craft project
  • Journal your thoughts
  • Walk your dogs

Mental/Mastery

Give yourself a boost by doing a task that you’ve been avoiding, or by challenging your brain in a new way.

  • Clean out a junk drawer or a closet
  • Take action (one small step) on something you’ve been avoiding
  • Try a new activity
  • Drive to a new place
  • Make a list
  • Immerse yourself in a crossword puzzle or word search
  • Read something you normally wouldn’t

Spiritual

Getting in touch with your values – what really matters – is a sure way to cope with stress and foster a calm mind.

  • Attend church
  • Read poetry or inspiring quotes
  • Light a candle
  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Spend time in nature
  • List 5 things you’re grateful for

Emotional

Dealing with our emotions can be challenging when we’re coping with stress. We tend to label feelings as “good” or “bad” but this isn’t helpful. Instead:

  • Accept your feelings. They’re OK. Really.
  • Write your feelings down – journaling
  • Cry when you need to
  • Laugh when you can
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Keep a list of your daily accomplishments

Physical

Cope with stress by getting your body moving.

  • Try yoga
  • Go for a walk or a run
  • Dance
  • Stretch
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Don’t skip sleep to get things done
  • Take a nap

Social

Connecting with others is an important step of self-care.

  • Go on a lunch date with a good friend
  • Call a friend/family member on the phone
  • Participate in a club
  • Join a sports team
  • Volunteer
  • Join a support group

Recognizing and Avoiding Burnout

Burnout is defined as “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” Burnout is particularly common in people who work in a “helping” or “caregiving” field – such as first responders, medical staff, social workers, teachers, parents, or just about anyone who has high standards and idealistic dedication to their jobs or roles.

Burnout can strike at any time – even if someone is very good at what they do. Some common causes of burnout include:

  • Overwhelming workload
  • Hard work with no clear goals (or no clear sight of progression)
  • Powerlessness to change something important to you
  • Forcing yourself to make the impossible happen, such as solving a problem without the necessary resources
  • A conflict between your personal values and your company’s values
  • Hitting an invisible ceiling – hardly any chance of recognition or promotions

Burnout can be a preliminary stage to a mental health problem. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms of burnout, it is important to seek mental health attention, such as visiting your family doctor, right away to take care of these symptoms before they worsen:

  • Physical Symptoms
  • Headaches
  • Sleep Problems
  • Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Muscle Aches
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Frequent Colds
  • Sudden Weight Loss or Gain
  • Emotional Symptoms
  • Apathy
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Negative or Cynical Attitude
  • Being Unexcited About Life
  • Inclinations to High Risk Behavior
  • High Emotional Volatility
  • High Irritability

Recognizing and Avoiding Perfectionism

Perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Perfectionism is often a driving force towards burnout, and is a bigger problem than most people realize.

Perfectionism is also a driving force in problems like Depression and Anxiety, and can lead to very serious consequences if not recognized and taken care of right away. Here are some signs that you may have fallen into the trap of perfectionism:

  • You always worry about making mistakes.
  • You assume others are better or more perfect than you are, even though you do not see their effort.
  • You procrastinate a lot because you fear failure and have trouble getting started with things.
  • Our partners feel that they always fall short and that no matter what they do, it is not good enough.
  • You know your perfectionistic attitude is harmful, but you see it as the price of keeping up your image.
  • You need frequent compliments and reassurance about how well you do.
  • You are critical of others whose “standards” are lower.
  • You pride yourself on always having something to do, even when others are relaxing or taking a day off.
  • You cannot tolerate being criticized.
  • Since perfectionism is an impossible goal you always feel like you are “not quite there.” There must be something else you can improve.
  • You are very anxious all the time and fear that someone will find out you are a fraud.
  • You rely on outward symbols that you have done well – awards, grades, compliments – while on the inside you feel that you can never measure up.
  • All mistakes, even little ones, are crises and create emotional upheaval.

Social

Support System

A support system is a network of people whom you can trust and confide in. They are people that build you up, edify you, encourage you, and offer wise advice when you ask of it. They support you in various areas of your life.

A support system is also known as a safety net. The bigger the net, the easier it is to catch yourself when you fall. By building a strong support system now, when things get rocky in life, you’ll have a stable foundation to keep you from hitting rock bottom.

Support systems are made up of friends, family, peers, coworkers, faith leaders, sports coaches, teachers, or any other person that can be there for you when you need them. “Being there” for you can be as simple as going out for coffee after a rough day, someone to chat with on the phone to distract you from an argument, or someone who will spend the afternoon watching movies with you.

Here are some tips for creating a support system:

  • Have a medium size support group, ideally between 5 – 10 individuals. Less than 5 puts a lot of pressure on those people, and if you are in crisis you may not be able to get ahold of anyone. More than 10 puts a lot of pressure on yourself to keep everyone updated on life events.
  • Check in with the people in your group often. This can be as simple as sending a text every couple of days, or going out for coffee once a week.
  • Reciprocate. Relationships are a two-way street. Check in with your friends often to see how they are doing too.
  • Listen to your support group. You are surrounding yourself with these people for a reason, be sure to listen and actually consider the things they tell you.

Positive Environment

This is one of the most difficult areas of life to find health and balance in, because often our environments are beyond our control. A positive environment is also paradoxically one of the most important aspects of being well, because oftentimes the way we react and respond is tied to the environment that we find ourselves in.

Stressful environments will lead to added stress in our lives. Living in that state of stress will cause significant damage to our bodies and brains. Conversely, living in environments that are relaxing, productive, and positive will create lives that mirror those qualities.

Environmental Risk Factors

  • Abuse or fear of personal safety
  • Surrounded by negativity – negative ideas, words, and actions
  • Basic needs not being met (food, shelter, etc.)

Protective Factors

  • Surrounded by positivity – glass half full mentality
  • Feels safe
  • Basic needs being met
  • Loving, warm, and empathetic people
  • Ability to relax, have fun, laugh

Spiritual

Healthy Dreams and Aspirations

Having a vision for your life helps to propel you forward. Oftentimes when we begin to struggle, we are faced with thoughts such as “What is the point” and “things will never get better”. These thoughts indicate that future dreams, plans, and aspirations may be hurting or non-existent.

While it is important to focus on the now, it is also important to take a look ahead so that we are prepared for what comes our way. By creating goals in our lives and making realistic steps to get there, we can ensure that we are living lives that are constantly growing and achieving.

Here are some questions to get you started on defining a healthy vision for your life:

  1. If your life was perfect in every sense of the word, what would it look like?
  2. What kind of person do you want your friends/family to remember you as?
  3. What talents/skills are you inherently good at?
  4. If you knew that you could not fail, what would you do?

Good Set of Morals

What are morals? Morals are defined as a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do. Morals come from a variety of places, most often being influenced by values taught to us by our parents and religious establishments.

While some morals vary across cultures, there are several universal rules that help to guide our behavior. These rules cross cultural boundaries, and we all generally understand and follow them regardless of our upbringing:

  • DO NOT…
  • Lie
  • Steal
  • Cheat
  • Falsely accuse others
  • Verbally or Physically abuse others
  • Murder
  • Destroy the natural environment
  • DO…
  • Treat others the way you would like to be treated
  • Be honest and fair
  • Be generous
  • Be faithful to friends and family
  • Take care of your children when they are young
  • Take care of your parents when they are old
  • Take care of those who cannot take care of themselves
  • Be kind to strangers
  • Respect all life
  • Protect the natural environment

When we act contrary to our set of morals, it creates cognitive dissonance, which is a sort of friction within ourselves. Living your life as a good person – and having a standard to call “good” – puts us in a mentally healthier place than when we are struggling with cognitive dissonance.

By having a code in which to live your life, and by following that code, you create consistency between who you are and who you would like to be.


Belief in a Higher Being

Believing in a higher being or higher meaning has shown to reduce stress, increase strength, and assist in coping and comforting measures. Many of us have heard it said that “believing is half the battle”, a phrase attributed to how much our minds and beliefs affect the outcome of a situation. This is often shown in hospitals; a patient that believes he or she will make it through is much more likely to succeed than a patient that has lost their hope.

Generally speaking, those that believe in a higher being or meaning can always count on a light at the end of their tunnel. There is an intrinsic hope and peace that can be brought from inside. Additionally, those that hold on to such beliefs are often tied with churches, community centers, synagogues, or mosques – communities of like-minded individuals to provide support during tough times.