Originally posted March 9, 2018.
I believe cultivating the habits of thought and action that nurtures mental health is an ongoing, life-long, learning process. I love being a licensed counselor. I believe in professional therapy. I have studied the research and personally seen the positive results of professional counseling for over 17 years. And there are lots of things you can do yourself outside the therapy room and outside the mental health profession to have a positive impact on your mental health.
Look to see which of your wolves you feed more consistently. We all have competing wolves inside. Which one do you feed?
Research shows that some people are lucky enough to be born with an innate positivity. And some people are lucky enough to be born into family situations where healthy emotional and mental attitudes are taught by both modeling positive behavior and having honest communication about identifying and expressing feelings. So positive habits can be innate and also naturally absorbed in childhood.
So, not everyone is innately positive or born into situations surrounded by positive emotional support. And sometimes an early environment isn’t outright abusive, but it’s not actually supportive and positive, either.
However, research shows that you can take positive steps towards helping yourself develop positive emotional and mental habits by learning good emotional skills and forming positive habits all of your life.
Mindfulness is a large skill that’s all about learning to remain in the present moment. Staying and appreciating the present moment brings you out of future-oriented and anxious “what-if” thinking and also the past-oriented and stuck-ness of “if-only” thinking.
The larger skill of mindfulness is built on the smaller bite-size skills of observing and describing what is happening inside of you and outside of you in the environment with strong emotion or judgment. So, stop and take a look-see and feel what’s around you and appreciate the moment. It’ll help disconnect you from those cycling thoughts and feelings.
Consciously create and experience pleasant experiences for yourself.
Emotional changes actually effect our bodies and minds. Creating a list of positive expertness that feel good to you and doing something positive every day is a wonderful way to build up positive emotional pathways for you draw upon when you are feeling sad or anxious.
Practice this skill by creating a list of positive experiences and then choosing one to experience every day. Your list might consist of reading, walking, jogging, exercising, telling yourself “I’ve completed this task and I’ve done it well (however small, even making your bed), knitting, needlework, gardening, talking on the phone to a friend, cooking a meal, try new things, go on different routes when you walk, etc. Everyday, take a positive small action and do one of the items on your list. Day after day, positive experiences build up in your body and mind. They actually change your body physiology and come imbedded in your body and mind!
Check to see if you live by your inner values.
This is also a big skill that can created from smaller actions. Perhaps you’ve never really created consciously thought about you values how or you’ve only vaguely thought about you values, but never wrote them down.
So, you can identify say, five things you value. Perhaps they are, say, family, spirituality, kindness, respect, and self-worth. You may have other values you wish to list. Then look at your actual behavior and time commitments and see if your behaviors and actual commitments reflect what it is you want to be doing with your precious time on earth. If you value family and self-worth, you can see if care for your family and also build time into your life for yourself. If you value kindness, you can practice treating others with kindness and behaving as it you except to be treated in the same way. It feels good to have an internal compass and to be congruent in your behavior and actions, so that you aren’t in conflict with your values and your actions in life.
Nourish your second brain well.
There is a connection between how you feel and what you eat. There’s a lot of research to support this, but it’s all pretty obvious when you stop to see how you feel every day. How do you feel when you down a Redbull? A bit strung out and anxious? When you eat sugar laden foods? Do you get a burst of energy and then feel tired?
Do you have consistent digestive problems that you and your doctors have attributed to “nerves”? If you have chronic diarrhea and gassiness that you and your doctors have attributed to “nerves” all your life, taking a look at possible food sensitivities is a good idea.
Did you know about 65% of the human population is lactose sensitive or intolerant? Also, there is a percentage of the population that has an oligosaccharide intolerance. These two sensitivities often go hand in hand. Oligosaccharide intolerance is a sensitivity to certain carbohydrates in a large group of foods. You can take a look at the foods implicated in the low FODMAP diet. So, maybe it’s time to consider talking to your doctor or a nutritionist about your diet. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist who can help you check out these possibilities.
A diet based on plant foods including phytonutrients and nourishing whole grains and beans that give you sustained energy and high quality protein feeds your brain health as well as your body health. Low inflammation for the brain may help deter brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. There is a wealth of information about the role of diet in your well-being. Dr. Wiel’s website is very informative.
Practicing the self-care of positive changes for your mindbody health take time and deserve guidance. Slowing down your everyday observations to enjoy the life around you, building positive experiences and living by positive inner values are all ways to live emotionally skillfully and build mental health.