Monday, May 28, 2012

Hit The Mental Gym. Why Our Minds Need Daily Exercise To Maintain Good Mental Health.

      Most of us are well aware of what it means to be physically healthy and what we need to do to achieve optimal health. A balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol to excess, not smoking, and daily exercise all contribute to our well-being. Exercise in particular has shown to significantly improve one's health. Not only does it keep us fit, it also helps to ward off cardiac illness and cardiovascular disease and improves our brain's capacity to retain, process, and integrate new information. But what about the idea of what it means to be "emotionally healthy".  And when necessary, what we need to do in order to improve our emotional health?  There may seem to be an obvious answer to this question, but emotional health is in fact a multi-faceted concept and maintaining it takes daily effort, just like maintaining our bodies. 
     Good mental health is composed of having high self-esteem, the ability to modulate and express both positive and negative emotions in an effective way, accurately assess reality (especially when emotions run high), having compassion both for ourselves and others, and maintaining a healthy balance between work and play. Good emotional health also entails keeping our brains physically fit. Just as our bodies change with age so do our minds. We may become more forgetful and may not be "on top" of things the way we used to be. It is important to be aware of these issues so that you can keep your mind happy and healthy.
     The first step in achieving good emotional health is deciding what aspects need to be addressed and worked on. Begin by getting an overall baseline of your emotional health by keeping track of your feelings for a minimum of two weeks. Be cognizant of when you feel anger, anxiety, and/or depression and the circumstances in which these feelings tend to occur. It is also important to be aware of the times you feel happy, satisfied, and accomplished and the situations in which good emotions are felt. The next step is to discover patterns between your feelings and specific circumstances and/or specific thoughts. For example, one mental exercise to help strengthen your self-esteem is to make a list of your actual accomplishments and emotional strengths, such as being a devoted mother, an accomplished professional, and/or being a compassionate and assertive individual. Set aside time every day to read and remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Just as daily exercise needs to be done regularly in order to get results the same rule holds true for our emotional health.
     Despite old habits and attitudes being difficult to change, it is not impossible when we consistently work on replacing them with healthy and new ones. Our brain develops new ways of thinking when we regularly train it just as our muscles develop and strengthen when we consistently train them. Sometimes our own efforts to improve our emotional health are not effective and when this happens seeking professional help is often indicated. It can be difficult to improve our emotional health and for some it can take years to come to realize who you are and what parts of your emotional well being need attention. But you can begin by following these four tips:

-Take care of yourself physically by eating well, getting regular exercise, and enough sleep.
-Get a baseline of your emotional health and determine what aspects need a "work out". Develop your own emotional "work out".
-Make time to enjoy yourself. Reward yourself for a job well done. Remember your achievements. 
-Get support. Sometimes improving your emotional health means seeking professional help.

Do you have aspects of your emotional health that need a work-out? What is your emotional exercise? I would like to hear from you. 

This article was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. a practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. Please email comments or questions to drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com. To learn more about me and my practice please visit my web site at www.drpauladurlofsky.com. 



1 comment:

  1. Simply said, optimal preventative techniques include regularly managing stress and getting checked for depression. At this time of year, when disruptions to healthy routines and choices can be more common and upsetting, awareness is especially important. Routines can be disrupted by shorter days, colder weather, and holidays, which can bring both delight and worry. It may happen unintentionally or appear natural to be sidetracked from being as physically active when the abundant sunshine and clear skies of warmer months give way to uncertain weather, shorter days, and seasonal occasions.

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