Did you know that one out of every five Americans struggles with one mental illness (at least) each year? The same is true for children between the age of 13 to 18 years old. Research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that women are more likely to grapple with serious mental illness (SMI) than men. In addition, people ages 18 to 25 are in the “most likely” category when it comes to SMI1.
The good news is this means if you’ve ever struggled with mental health, you’re certainly not alone. But knowing how common this issue is for so many of us, makes the discussion around mental health astronomically important.
Your Body AND Your Mind
It’s Mental Health Awareness Month and we want to help you achieve a new level of mental health and wellness. When you care for your body, you have to include all parts of your body because they are all interconnected. If you’re wanting to achieve excellent physical health, your mental health needs to be included on your list.
Your brain is connected to your gut through the vagus nerve. When your brain produces high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), it directly affects the state of your gut. That is to say, your microbiome will start to change in reaction to what’s happening in your brain. Constant stress leads to chronic inflammation which can have devastating effects on the lining of your gut, meaning serious digestive issues.
5 Practices to Fortify Your Mental Health
At OWL, we strive to educate our community on the best health habits that will positively impact your gut health and therefore the health of your entire body. Because mental health holds so much influence on the environment within your gut, we want to take time to draw attention to the best mental health habits that will assist you in maintaining balance in your body between your mind and your gut. Let's dive in.
1. Give Yourself the Opportunity to Gain Perspective
Looking back on all of your accomplishments in life is paramount to feelings of positivity, particularly when you’re in a deflated and defeated state. No matter how big or how small the mountain was - you climbed it, and you enjoyed the view.
The same goes for past challenges. Think of an obstacle you faced one year ago at the least. Something that really got under your skin and stole some sleep hours away from you. Some questions to ask yourself about that moment in the past:
- How big of an impact did that situation make on where you are today?
- Did it affect your daily life in the weeks following? Months?
- What did you do to make it through that trial?
Finding a moment to pause, take a breath, and ask yourself these questions can help you realize that your mind makes things out to be bigger than they actually are. That’s not to say that you’re overreacting - no, you’re allowed to feel what you feel in the moment. It’s even healthy to allow yourself the space to do so. But for the protection of your mental wellbeing, you have to consider all angles of every predicament you face. This will help you see past your negative feelings, and help you navigate through those waters until the storm clears.
2. Redirect Your Mind
What is mindfulness? It’s the state of simply being. Existing in the present while rehashing a past you can’t change, or yearning for the future takes you out of your current life and opens a door for negativity to enter your world. You miss out not only on the wonderful things happening to you or for you in the moment, you also miss out on valuable lessons that can teach you something. You can even miss the chance for incredible opportunities that appear on your present timeline.
Instead, develop a habit of sitting in silence - this includes a quiet mind - and allow your body and mind to experience everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Keep a journal with a running list of the things you love about right now. Stop and listen to the sounds of nature or take in the view around you.
Our favorite way to practice mindfulness is through drawing a daily affirmation card from The Universe Has Your Back Card Deck - a collection of inspiration, encouragement, and gratitude. When you need a sprinkle of positivity in your life, draw a card and see where it takes your mind.
Rewire Your Old Thinking Habits
The construction of your brain is beneficial to storing memories, developing skills, gaining knowledge, and acquiring wisdom. But it does this through building very strong and deep-rooted information highways, which is why humans tend to be creatures of habit. Some habits like brushing your teeth, drinking water, and singing every word to your favorite song are beneficial to your health. But others can turn into toxic thinking patterns that your brain develops over years of traveling a well-worn path in response to worrying or stress.
The more aware you are of these tendencies, the quicker you can act to stop and redirect your mind. You can do this by turning on your favorite song, calling a loved one, or start planning your next exciting trip. Controlling the direction your mind goes can take you a long way away from your usual stress spirals and train yourself to see beyond life’s hiccups.
3. Imagine Yourself In Multiple Situations
In times of stress or pressure, our minds go into survival mode. This can make your brain reel and lose focus on what is actually happening. When you start to feel like everything is spinning out of control, try the following exercise:
Visualize the thing that is worrying you and focus on why it’s worrying you. Then write down the very worst case scenario that could come about due to your circumstances. Then write down the absolute best possible outcome (no matter how silly it might be).
This is a grounding exercise that helps you realize how far your mind can swerve off the actual path. In reality, your results will most likely end up in the middle of your two scenarios. After you try this process a few times and are comfortable with using it, you can further improve your reaction by planning out your immediate next steps. Being proactive in your reactions is the key to manifesting that more likely middle ground outcome.
4. Progressive Relaxation
This technique includes isolating muscle groups through flexing and relaxing each one, starting from your toes through your eyebrows - all while inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly.
Several studies show that Progressive Muscle Relaxation helps relieve everything from migraines to anxiety, TMJ, to hypertension. PMR can also help alleviate neck and lower back pain and improve your quality of sleep2.
5. Write Away Your Worries
Putting your thoughts on paper can help you make better sense of what you’re thinking and feeling. It’s also a cathartic and sometimes therapeutic practice. The organization of the jumbled mess in your mind makes your obstacles feel more tangible and therefore more manageable. They might even seem less of a problem than you thought.
No matter the result of this practice, it frees your mind from stress and allows you to think through your next actions in response to your situations instead of dwelling and worrying. The next time you feel strangled by an incident in your life, get it off of your mind immediately and take note of how your physical state changes as you do so.
Mental Mindfulness Matters
Start with one practice and integrate it into your daily routine. Add each one in as you feel comfortable, and feel your feelings of stress and anxiety melt away as time moves on. Your body and your soul will thank you.
Julie is a self-made writer on a forever journey of fitness and health. As a high school music teacher, she has seen and experienced the challenges of maintaining good health while simultaneously balancing a career and healthy relationships.
Julie has always lived a healthy and active lifestyle. She loves the outdoors, hiking, and camping. Over the years she has continued to learn smarter and better ways to take care of her body while continuing to do the things that make her smile. Naturally, all of her teacher friends wanted to know how she did it - what was her secret?
Julie found herself explaining over and over everything she'd learned in her research, and sharing her experiences through trial and error. Her friends would take her advice, try some new things, and then come back to ask how to take it to the next level.
"You should charge for this kind of information!" Became a constant phrase, and so began her career of writing to share her knowledge with the world through health and wellness companies looking to spread healing and healthy habits within their communities. Now Julie gets to combine two of the things she enjoys most - writing and wellness - and use them to affect change in a real way.
When not making music with her kiddos, or writing wellness tips for a higher quality of life, you can find her reading, hiking, drumming, and fitnessing