Discussions concerning prevention, treatment and mental health maintenance habitually center around psychotherapy or psychiatric medication interventions. While these methods are invaluable, we must be cautious not to neglect the other elements of our health. Humans are triune beings consisting of the physical body, the mind, and the spirit. Each aspect is interconnected and influential on the other. Mental health is only one part of our complete health. With this in mind, it’s essential to look into the other domains, such as the lifestyle factors that contribute to our three-part self. Lifestyle plays a vital role in how we experience life and health.
Adjusting your lifestyle to reach health goals is not always easy. All the (usually unsolicited) information is thrown at us from magazines and the internet claiming “cure-all foods” and misguided promises of “the only workout you will ever need” becomes overwhelming. Mindful Living Group’s expert team of medical professionals takes a holistic approach to address mental and total health and respects each person’s unique needs. Therapists, counselors, and nurse practitioners can help you navigate changes and create a plan for your specific mental and biological needs and may benefit you greater than a one-size-fits all diet or fitness regimen.
We have created a two-part series to best review the scope of archetypal lifestyle factors on health. The first will examine the connection between the mind and body. The second will look into the mind and spirit connection and how the three forms come together to create who we are.
Quintessential Lifestyle Factors Of Mind-Body Health
Lifestyle is the routine behaviors and habits that an individual engages in daily. There are numerous categories of focus, with the primary mind-body pillars being sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise.
Throughout the average human lifespan, we spend (should spend) a third of our existence sleeping.
This number may seem high, but sleep is critical for physical and mental health. For many people, quality sleep is something from a fairytale. It is estimated that 51 percent of people worldwide struggle with insufficient sleep from several causes. Many mental health disorders are characterized by insomnia as one of the top symptoms. Unfortunately, it may not always seem possible to shut down for the night, recharge, and power up at the flip of a switch.
While promoting better sleep may not resolve all issues, especially if lack of sleep is related to a disorder or illness, there’s still a good chance changing your pre-bedtime routine and habits may produce improvements. You’ve likely heard or read the term sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the behavior practiced daily that prepares your mind and body to unwind, giving yourself a better chance to fall – and stay – asleep. The following lists standard practices of sleep hygiene.
- Put Down The Phone, Tablet, or Laptop And Turn Off The T.V. Better yet, don’t bring your phone into the bedroom. If this is not an option, leave it in a place that is not arms-length away. In the past decade, our phones, and other forms of technology, have become a part of us. Notifications constantly light up screens and distract us from what we are doing, or trying to do, such as sleeping. The light from the screens plays games with our brains and disrupts the release of hormones that encourage sleep. It’s all too common to hear your pal (or maybe yourself) saying they were up into the early morning hours “doom scrolling” or “binging” t.v. shows before becoming aware the alarm will go off in two hours.
- Beds, and bedrooms, are for sleeping and sex. Leave all other ventures for other rooms of the home. Understandably, bedrooms are often multi-use spaces; this is often the case for people who share homes. In these situations, refrain from doing work, projects, homework, hobbies, etc., on the bed. Your brain is a muscle; train it to associate the bed with sleep.
- The appearance, cleanliness, and even layout of the bedroom matter. The feeling of freshly washed bedding is unmatched. This is the tranquility to strive for when you enter the bedroom. If there are messes and clutter, there’s a higher chance of increased anxiety and run-wild thoughts about everything you haven’t checked off your to-do list yet. A quiet room and comfortable temperature further encourage better sleep. If you work night shifts, investing in black-out curtains may be beneficial to keep the sun from disturbing your sleep.
- Routine, routine, routine. Just as it is important to train your brain to associate the bed with sleep, it’s essential to establish a nightly routine that begins signaling it’s time for rest soon. This routine can be different for everyone. Approximately an hour before bed, start turning off any unused lights. If you have lamps with softer lighting, use those. Put the phone and any other electronics down, and turn the t.v. off. If you love to read books and feel like you never have time, this is the time. Take time for yourself. Meditate, practice mindfulness, or take a warm, soothing bath or shower; you don’t want water too hot, which raises blood pressure and heart rate. Slow yourself down. Breathing exercises specific to lowering heart rate and relaxation are fantastic to do during this time.
- When you go to bed and wake up, repetition is critical. Humans thrive on routine and repetition. Sticking to a scheduled bedtime and rise time continues conditioning the brain and body for sleep and wakefulness. If you are in a situation that doesn’t permit sticking to this, it’s okay; return to your routine as soon as possible.
Your Healthy Food May Not Be Healthy For Someone Else
Diet is likely the most debated topic when it comes down to what is healthy or not. Frequently going unmentioned, there is no single food or meal plan that is unanimous in being “the best.” Through personal experiences, we are aware that no two people are alike, further extending to everyone’s biological makeup. The stereotypical “well-rounded” plate and eating three meals a day may be ideal for some people, while it may be harmful to others. Mindful Living Group providers also like to remind us that “food is fuel.” Nurse practitioner Molly Palmer will encourage fueling the body to help fuel the brain and thinking. She states, “Our brains expend calories to think and function daily. When [they are] not nourished, we can’t focus or perform at optimal levels.”
Human Metabolic Types may influence what foods or meal plans are best for our individual bodies and they are a spectrum with three notable types on each end and the center, “Sympathetic Dominant/Slow Oxidation,” “Balance/Mixed,” and “Parasympathetic Dominant, Fast Oxidation.”
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is a two-part system containing the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems. The ANS has an interrelationship with metabolic oxidation – the process by which the body breaks down food into usable energy (Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP).
- Sympathetic Dominant/Slow Oxidation Type. This group is estimated to be around 25 percent of the general population. These individuals digest food at a drastically slower pace. It is not uncommon for them to miss meals or go long intervals between eating without adverse effects. In general, they are often more responsive to a diet that consists of high carbohydrate foods and plants, such as whole grains, nutrient-rich vegetables, and fruits. Meat proteins are good for some; however, it is recommended to keep portions small and in the form of lean, light meats. Meals dense with fats, like butter, and large quantities of red meats tend to cause a sluggish, weighed-down feeling.
- Balanced/Mixed Type. The majority of the population is believed to fall under this Metabolic Type (approximately 50 percent). Oxidation speed is relatively centered on the scale. Still, individuals can favor one side more than the other, especially if their metabolism is unbalanced. People benefit immensely from keeping a food diary or journal in this group. By documenting what you eat and its effects on your body, you are more aware of which foods to avoid and which are sustaining your body the most.
- Parasympathetic Dominant/Fast Oxidation Type. The individuals who fall into this Metabolic Type are often known as the person who “lives for food” and are frequently dubbed “hangry” when they haven’t eaten in a couple of hours. Oxidation rates run at high-speed. As a result, they burn through carbohydrates like fire and tender. Relying on a diet loaded with carbs increases the risk of inducing hypoglycemia. The optimal diet suggested for “fast oxidizers” is high in rich proteins and healthy fats. The most suitable meat proteins are wild game or fattier meats such as lamb and pork (yes, bacon), fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, trout, anchovies), muscles, and various types of seafood. It is critical to consume plenty of healthy fats (approximately two times more fat than protein per meal). If dairy products are an option for you, get those with whole-fat. Some diet plans will completely exclude carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. Others include them in small portions. This factor is entirely dependent on each person and their nutrient needs.
The Body Needs Movement
First and foremost, when told we need to begin incorporating exercise into our lifestyle, it is common for people to get a head-rush of emotions. Some people may get excited, while others pull inward from anxiety and a sense of overwhelming. The latter often stems from the assumption they need to join a gym and push themselves at the same level as their peers. This does not have to be the type of exercise you pursue. What is frequently left unsaid by the media – especially the Instagram fitness “gurus” – is the most crucial part of being active is it has to work for you. Taking this into account, be careful to not let this become a justification for skipping out.
Ease into it. While it may seem like “common sense,” we often get excited to begin something new and throw every bit of ourselves into it. Pushing yourself beyond capacity may put you at risk of injury. The lack of enjoyment from pushing your body to do what it is not YET able to do will drastically decrease your motivation to continue. Try out different ways to get moving. It can be low intensity like going for a walk, a hike through nature, bike ride, swimming, gardening, yoga, or tai chi. Some people prefer the environment of the gym, team or class activities, or cardio to other methods. There is no wrong answer as long as you get your body moving. Start off with a commitment to yourself of a minimal time limit (for example, 10 minutes) of exercise for a certain amount of days a week and gradually increase the time, days, and activities as you become ready.
One of the benefits of being active is that exercise actually increases a neurotrophic called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which helps with neurogenesis, or forming new neurons. Exercise can release all kinds of good chemicals in the brain and is accompanied by an increase in BDNF. Increased BDNF is associated with improved cognition and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety.
You’re Not Alone: Mindful Living Group’s Holistic Approach
The medical professionals with Mindful Living Group excel in areas associated with lifestyle. They empathize with the difficulties that often arise when making habit and behavioral changes. In particular, diet and nutrition can become highly complex, overwhelming, and often hard to find the correct answer for your individual needs. Joanne King, LMHC – a psychotherapist certified in mindfulness and Hatha yoga – has expertly developed a fantastic program to help individuals struggling with food.
You do not have to take on this journey alone. The community of knowledgeable, compassionate leaders and providers at Mindful Living Group provides support and education. They can give each person the resources necessary to continue improvement. Participating in groups – online or in-person – may help you connect with others on a similar path.
Why Caring For the Body Is Part Of Mental Health
The Irreplaceable Value Of Sleep:
A deficiency in sleep leads to impaired cognitive function, mood regulation, executive functioning, poor memory or “foggy” feelings, and depleted energy. It only takes approximately three to four days without any sleep to begin experiencing psychosis and paranoia symptoms. The longer you go without sleeping, the more your brain and body malfunction. While we are asleep, our brains and bodies get to work on processes they cannot accomplish while utilizing energy during times we are awake. The body and brain use this time to restore cells and muscle tissue damage and produce growth where needed. The brain (among its many “housekeeping” responsibilities) works to process the events of the day, store memories, and rejuvenate itself in preparation for the upcoming day. Muscles, tissue, organs, and cells take this time to repair, grow, and replenish themselves throughout the body.
The Food We Eat Has An Affect On Mood:
Our mood, attention, clarity, and memory rely on the body producing neurotransmitters. Nearly 90 percent of serotonin production occurs in the gut. Other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and GABA rely on a healthy gut for production. These fundamental chemicals are produced by the bacteria in the digestive system and travel along the vagus nerve (a bidirectional, super-highway-like system) to the brain. The microbiome is delicate and easily disrupted by stress, diet, hydration, and inflammation.
Popular diets don’t work, at least not for most people. It’s better to think of a diet as a guideline rather than a rule book. Because no two people are the same, we need to focus on individual needs. Eat to feel good in your body and to refuel your energy supply. There’s a learning curve, no doubt, but it’s possible.
“Movement is the song of the body.”
– Vanda Scaravelli
Whether you choose to follow the Taoist view concerning physical activity, or Western medical advice, the premise is to reach an optimal place of total health. We have to move. Emotions, in particular trauma and grief, are stored in our physical bodies. The activity enables emotions and feelings to flow through us and be released. Additionally, exercise offers countless benefits to our mental health, such as releasing endorphins and stress relief. It is outstanding in reducing symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and many other mental disorders.
The physical benefits are equally significant. Exercise is an exceptional tool for sleeping better at night. Remember, you don’t want to engage in activities to get your heart rate up within a few hours from bedtime. If this is the only time slot available in your schedule, try yoga or something similar that produces a lower heart rate and relaxes the body and mind. Regularly moving promotes a more efficient digestive system, weight regulation, and increased self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth.
Once you develop a consistent exercise regime that feels good, your awareness of what you’re eating, drinking, or consuming substances heightens. Your body begins feeling better, and you gain respect for the dedicated work efforts of getting to this place. Chowing down on fast food or junk foods will quickly erase all the hard work.
Many of Mindful Living Group’s therapists and counselors are certified in various forms of yoga practices and lifestyle coaching. Providers frequently host groups and individual sessions centered on healthy eating, fitness, relationships, etc. Wellness events are mindful-based and supportive of each individual’s journey. You can find out what’s happening by going to the events calendar and following MLG on their social media platforms.
Achieving optimal wellness means different things to different people. Remember, it’s not a comparison game. This is about YOUR health and journey to live a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. A life that embraces the spirit of aloha.
Contact Mindful Living Group today to schedule an appointment or with any further questions.