Last month we talked about our New Year’s Resolutions and how to differentiate between our internal and external motivations. Staying with the theme of taking a deeper look at ourselves and our goals, this month I wanted to highlight the importance of taking care of our body and minds, and more specifically, the mind-body connection.
What we eat, how we sleep, whether or not we exercise, and practice self-care has a lot to do with our mood. Keep in mind that there are always individual differences in how our bodies might react to stressful situations and respond to them. That is why it’s an important practice to speak with your physician first before you choose to implement any changes in your daily practice to ensure it is properly suited for your body.
Food Intake on Mood:
We are the experts for our own bodies and it is important that we keep track of what works and what does not work for our bodies. Luckily, there are plenty of resources such as phone applications that can help us monitor food intake and exercise. What's important to keep in mind is what we put into our bodies, could have a significant impact on our mood.
There has recently been an increase in the amount of information out there regarding what we should and should not be eating. It could be confusing to sort through and try to understand how these different foods may be having an impact on us. For instance, is eating too much processed food, or perhaps takeout food causing issues with your health? If it is impacting your physical health, it is likely also impacting your mental health as well.
Foods that weigh us down make us feel tired, create difficulty in allowing us to concentrate and this, in turn, affects on our mood (i.e., low mood, feeling depressed or anxious).
Quality and Quantity of Sleep:
How many of us are actually getting the right amount of sleep? There is data that suggests 70% of Americans get insufficient sleep (see reference below). Again, there are many individual differences given your age, work/school schedule and body type when it comes to how many hours of sleep we need per night. In general, lack of sleep could be a warning sign that mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression are interacting with our body.
Try to implement a bedtime routine by turning off all electronic devices 30 minutes before you sleep, engaging in calming activities such as reading a book before bed, not drinking caffeine several hours before going to bed, and trying a mindfulness activity like a brief meditation before going to sleep. The more rested you feel, the more likely you will start experiencing an improvement in your mood.
Physical Movement and Activity:
There is a lot of data and research on how physical movement could help improve mood. Physical activity does not only have to include intense exercise routines such as high intensity training, cardio or aerobics, but rather could also include more gentle movement like yoga, stretching, light walking, or tai chi.
Consider your comfort level with physical movement as well as any possible physical limitations you may have before implementing a movement routine. It’s best to start by taking small steps and slowly incorporating a movement routine. Try incorporating movement once a week, then build from that each week.
Notice how a few minutes of movement each day could have a positive impact on your thoughts, behaviors and overall mood. The more you have awareness of your body, the more you’ll start to see the positive changes.
Connection with Others:
Not only do we want to be aware of how external forces on our body could impact our mood, but also what’s going on inside our bodies. Hormones play a big role on how our body responds certain situations in our lives. When we go through a stressful situation, for example, our body produces certain hormones. We produce cortisol which is the stress hormone. We also produce oxytocin during times of stress.
Oxytocin makes us feel the need to connect with others. When we go through a stressful situation, our body is actually wanting us to connect with others and get support through social connection. This has a clear biological impact on our brain and bodies, but it also has an impact on our mental health and the perception that we are being supported by others.
After consulting with a physician or health expert, ask yourself if there are any changes or improvements you can make with in your life today which can have a positive impact on your overall mood and wellbeing. You might be surprised how a small change in one area of your life could affect how you feel in the long-run.
Lipman, Frank. (2018) How to be well: The 6 keys to a happy and healthy life. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York: NY.