When we think of health we tend to think of physical health and the body. If we were to list ways to keep healthy we might include diet, exercise and preventing illness. But what about our mind? It is just as important to have a healthy mind as a healthy body. You may argue that it is more so. We are our thoughts. For a significant part of each day we ‘live’ in our minds. And if our minds are unwell they are not always the best places to be.
We live in stressful times. There have been big leaps forward in technology over the last few decades. But just as technology brings opportunity, there is a flip side. Information is faster and more immediate. If we need to know the answer to something we type it into a search box and receive hundreds of answers. We can connect with people in an instant who are located at the other end of the earth. We don’t need to wait as much. Everything is quicker, smarter and more immediate.
These subtle changes in culture and how we live our lives can take their toll. Just as we expect our information at the touch of a screen, we are expected to respond in the same way. We are all connected now and there is an assumption that we will be available, that we will respond to text messages and emails straight away.
Social media brings us together and creates communities. It also isolates. How many times have you looked at an Instagram photograph and compared it to your own life? There’s an unspoken pressure to share our best selves and our best lives. The downside is that we’re not receiving the full truth. Behind those impossibly beautiful kitchens there’s a stack of dirty dishes or a pile of laundry to be done. But we never see that and our lives seem very dull and ordinary by comparison.
All of this is in addition to our work lives and our family lives. This culture of ‘right now’ can bring stress. It pushes into all aspects of our life, including work. It is now the norm for people to have ‘working lunches’, which often equates to ‘working through’.
Moving beyond our immediate circle we are bombarded with pictures of atrocities occurring around the world. Sometimes it is even closer to home. We can go to a website to find our country’s current threat status.
All of this impacts on our minds. Because we focus on our physical bodies we don’t always have the tools to take care of our minds. This is where illness occurs. We become tired and unhappy and are prone to stress, anxiety and depression. We can’t change the world and so what can we do to keep our minds healthy?
Assess Your Mental Health
How are you feeling right now? How do you feel for most of the time? Are you happy and relaxed? Or do you feel anxious or despondent? Are you somewhere in the middle? If you suspect that you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, it is important to seek help. It may seem as though there is no way out of your current situation but there is. Speak to your GP in the first instance and ask for a referral. A trained counsellor will work through any issues you have and help you to find solutions. You may find this article on how to get rid of anxiety useful.
Separate your work life from your home life. This is much easier said than done but it is so important. Set boundaries and keep to them. Within the realms of your contact work out how much you are prepared to work and keep to it. You may decide that you’re happy to stay late a couple of nights a week. This is fine but be clear about how long. What time are you prepared to stay until? For the other nights make sure you leave on time. This should be clear to you and should be made clear to your boss.
When you finish work, make sure you switch off completely. Don’t check your emails and phone messages until the next morning. You might find this difficult at first but it will become easier and then it will become second nature.
Create a ritual to separate work and home life. This could be jumping in the shower when you get home or changing your clothes. Be very clear that once you have completed this ritual that work is finished and this is now ‘home time’.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation impacts negatively on all aspects of your life, including your mind. It slows down your thought processes and makes it difficult to function at full capacity. It affects work and relationships. It is also linked to a number of illnesses including depression.
There are several steps you can take to improve your sleep patterns. Try to keep to a schedule and go to bed at the same time each day. Create a ritual that you follow. This could be taking a bath, reading for a half an hour or whatever works for you. Keep to the schedule and keep to the ritual. Eventually, this will create a pattern and your body will get used to it.
Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature. This will vary from person to person. Try to shut out any light and make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable. Make your bedroom a work-free zone. Ban all screens, including mobile phones.
Diet is directly linked to mood. A healthy diet and regular exercise have countless benefits, not least of which is maintaining a healthy mind. Avoid sugary and processed foods and opt for fresh fruit, veg and other wholefoods. Oily fish such as salmon and tuna act on the chemicals in the brain and will also have a positive impact on your mood.
When you eat is also important. Try to keep to three meals a day; breakfast, lunch and dinner. Avoid eating too close to bedtime as this can keep you awake. No more ‘quick lunches’ at your desk. Take a break from work and eat a proper lunch.
Make sure you drink enough water so that you brain and body are adequately hydrated. This amounts to approximately 2 liters per day for men and 1.6 liters for women. Amounts will vary depending on weight and activities.
Up until recently, few people were aware of
meditation. It wasn’t really on our radar. We had heard of it, of course but we were unaware of its benefits. Meditation is not new. Meditation practitioners have been extolling its virtues for thousands of years. Researchers have found that as we build up a meditation practice our brains change physically. That is, they change shape. Meditation helps with stress management, creativity and motivation. In fact, it has a positive impact on most areas of our lives. And it needn’t take up a lot of time. Just ten minutes a day can have a positive influence.
Other disciplines that benefit the mind and body are Yoga and
Tai Chi. Find out what works best for you and practice it often. It is the continued process of these activities that impacts positively on the mind.
There’s no quick solution to maintaining a healthy mind. It takes time, just as maintaining a healthy body takes time. There are a few quick fixes that will yield short term results. These are things like setting boundaries, unplugging and creating rituals. However, it is the practicing of these changes over time that will have the greater impact. In some cases, even changing the physical shape of our brain.
If you feel that you are suffering from anxiety, depression or any other illness, we would urge you to seek professional help. Counsellors won’t judge you. They are on your side. They will listen and help you reach a solution and find a happier, healthier life. Otherwise, we suggest that you begin all of this by making small changes initially. This could be deciding to leave work on time for three nights each week. Or it could be deciding to take a proper lunch break each day. It might feel uncomfortable at first but you will start to notice positive results.
Diet and exercise are also important for your overall health and not just your mind. Again, make small changes first and then slowly increase. Perhaps you could cut out certain unhealthy snacks and replace them with healthier options? Or you could increase your water intake or cut down on portion sizes. Any changes, no matter how small, will yield positive results. And you might be surprised at how quickly this works.
As we said earlier, we spend a lot of time in our own thoughts and they impact into every aspect of our lives. They affect work, relationships and family life. Our minds are as important as our bodies and it is important that we recognize this and treat them as such. A healthy mind is a happy mind and there’s nothing better than that.