Health is a cycle. It’s continuous, constantly fed by the choices you make. The cycle of wellness can be positive, negative, and in some cases, stagnant. The positive feedback cycle tends to be fueled by “healthy” choices. Consuming a wholesome diet. Getting in at least half an hour of activity a day. Sleeping enough. Managing and coping with stress, anxiety, and worry. Creating supportive inner-dialogues.
These positive actions continually build on each other. Often resulting in improved health, feeling energized and finding gratitude and true happiness. These feelings are the ultimate goal and the ultimate reward for those difficult choices. By continually saying “yes” to these healthy stops in the cycle, that cycle in turn only gets stronger.
But what are these choices exactly? And how do they all add up? Keep reading to find out!
Sleep, Rest, and Recovery
This may seem a little backwards, but sleep, rest, and recovery are some of the best things we do for ourselves. We live in a society always on the move. We have access to work all hours of the day. Most of our time is spent in meetings and appointments. We are told we should strive to have it all. We should have a great social life and flourishing career. Our family and friend relationships should be close. Our families should be big and happy. These things sound great on paper, but if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first, how the heck are we going to be able to accomplish all of these things?
Sleep is the ultimate form of self-care. It benefits the brain’s commitment to new information and memory consolidation. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause weight gain and alter hormones. That deprivation also influences tiredness throughout the day, which can lead to dangerous situations – such as falling asleep at the wheel or making uncommon errors. A lack of sleep can lead to negative mood changes. We are often left irritable, impatient, and unfocused. Too little sleep can leave you too tired to do the things you enjoy in life.
It is during sleep that we recover the most. That is the time when our muscles heal from workouts and our brain can cool down. Serious sleep disorders have been linked to an increase in cortisol, hypertension, and even irregular heartbeat. This deprivation also alters our immune function, which can lead to further disease. So the next time someone shames you for wanting a nap, remind them how important getting enough sleep is. And perhaps advise them to take a nap as well!
Nutrition advice is everywhere. It’s broadcasted on the radio and TV commercials. We see it scrolling through our social media feeds. Diets and lifestyles are being force-fed into our brains countless times a day. And while we can argue that a lot of the nutrition industry is just trying to make a profit, there is an underlying reason why it’s a billion dollar industry. Proper nutrition is the fuel we need to live our best lives.
It’s no secret that eating a well-balanced diet is vital for your health. Food provides our bodies with the energy it needs. It needs protein, carbohydrates, fats, nutrients, and minerals in order to grow, thrive, and function properly. We need a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods to find that good health. Providing your body with what it actually needs, not necessarily what it wants, results in all kinds of benefits. It reduces the risk of some diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Proper nutrition reduces high blood pressure and lowers bad cholesterol. It also improves a person’s ability to recover from illness and injury. Energy levels increase as does well being in general.
We know everyone loves a good piece of cake or ice cream cone, but it is critical we incorporate fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains into our diets as well. Our bodies need vitamins and minerals. They don’t run as well or efficiently off of processed junk. But we do want to disclaim that we aren’t “dissing” that ice cream though, because we know as much as anyone how great a good dessert can be for your mental health!
Activity and Exercise
Most tend to think exercise only benefits our physical health. And that’s true to an extent. Exercise can help a person lose weight and lower their risk of certain diseases. It can help you age well, which includes conditions like osteoporosis. However, exercise also benefits our mental health as well! Being active causes the body to produce those “feel good” chemicals and hormones in the brain. It can help a person sleep better. Exercise can even help those with mild depression and low-self esteem. Moving and accomplishing goals can give people a real sense of pride – like completing a 5K or setting a lifting PR!
You don’t need to complete an Ironman or run a full marathon to experience these benefits. We encourage you to find an exercise routine that gets your excited to move. That could be practicing yoga or Pilates. Maybe you love roller-skating or biking. There are now fitness classes that involve trampolines and aerial silks! Heck, exercising can even be as simple as going on a long walk to clear your mind when it suits you best. So get out there and follow Nike’s lead, “Just Do It”.
Click here for more activities you can try!
Drugs, Alcohol, and Other Mood Enhancers
While exercise can improve our moods for the better, drugs, alcohol, and other mood enhancers can change our moods for the worse. Drugs and alcohol interfere with the chemicals in your brain. They can enhance certain emotions and put a damper on others – which is a reason that many turn to them in the first place. But in the end, they all create barriers to being truly happy. These mood changes may be scoffed at by some, but in reality, these enhancers affect mental health as well.
When we use drugs and alcohol, we are interfering with the chemicals in our brains and bodies. More importantly, we are interfering with the messages they are trying to send each other. Yes in the short term, the effects of drugs and alcohol can be enjoyable for some. But normally that only happens when everything goes according to plan. There are times when we experience unwanted side effects that make us feel less than pleasant.
In the long term, drugs and alcohol can have a long lasting impression on your mental health. We often turn to them when things are difficult or we need to “take the edge off.” But by doing so, we aren’t practicing coping skills nor are we receiving the messages those “bad feelings” are trying to communicate. We aren’t asking you to give up these vices forever, but we do urge you to sit for a moment before you reach for that bottle of wine. Sit with those emotions and let them linger. Think about them and the situation that evoked them. And while it’s easier said than done, try to validate them. Learning to sit with the negatives as well as the positives will only add to your cycle of wellness.
Mental Health in General
Mental health is the umbrella under which emotions, psychological state, and social well-being fall. The state of our mental health affects how we think, feel, and act. It’s the guiding factor that determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and even make choices. Mental health is extremely important and is something we all need to talk about more.
There are many things that can contribute to your mental health issues. These include:
- Biological factors (like genes and brain chemistry)
- Life experiences (such as trauma or abuse)
- A family history of mental health problems (like depression)
Mental health has been a recent topic of debate as of late. Which is why it’s more important now than ever to treat mental health as a priority. Positive mental health allows us to realize our full potential. It also helps us cope with negativity and stress. Ways to achieve and maintain positive mental health includes:
- Getting professional help if you need it (and not just in an emergency)
- Connecting with others
- Finding the positives and silver linings
- Practicing gratitude
- Volunteering and helping others
- Getting active
- Sleeping enough
- Developing coping skills
Is Your Cycle of Wellness in a Rut?
The stronger the momentum in your cycle of wellness, the easier it is to continue with. But there is no shame in a slip-up or making a less-healthy choice every so often! If anything, that’s when you know you’re cycle of wellness is in a really good place. Having the flexibility and confidence to not let one “mistake” derail their positive direction only adds to this optimal health. It’s when we start ignoring or stop prioritizing these different aspects of our overall health that we should start to worry. Reversing the flow of a negative cycle of wellness is a difficult task, but it isn’t impossible.
And it’s definitely easier when you have someone walking the path with you. If you feel you are struggling, know you aren’t alone, and we want to join you on your journey! Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you navigate your personal roadblocks. Remember, health is a cycle — but you get to determine the direction it goes!