Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Allied Sciences, Nehru Nagar, New Delhi

By Soumya Jain, MPhil, Clinical Psychology

Lifestyle contributes more to an individual’s mental health, than we realise. Lifestyle factors such as physical activity, diet and nutrition, sleep hygiene, stress management, socialising, and recreation have a direct effect on our physical and mental health.

Even small aspects of our lifestyle can significantly impact our health status. Hence, building a healthy lifestyle is the most easy, sustainable, and cost effective way to keep ourselves in check, and prevent a host of health issues - age related, mental, physical - cardiovascular, even cancer.

Moreover, unlike practices in mental health care, lifestyle changes entail less complication, side effects, and stigmatisation. A good healthcare practitioner will insist on improvements in your routine, to bring about holistic change, and use lifestyle as a supplementary tool for management of any symptoms.

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Remember that health is also a process. We constantly build on it: “Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.”

Exercise -

Physical activity is prescribed by all health practitioners for almost every health issue, and believed to have a positive impact on our lives and livelihood. Exercise has been known to prevent illness, improve one’s energy levels, help the brain form new connections, boost our confidence, increase productivity and overall functionality.

Why should you exercise? For rushes of Endorphins and Serotonin! There has never been a workout that has been regretted. Prevent neuro and cognitive decline by investing between 3-4 hours of physical activity in your week. Hitting the gym or an HIIT workout may seem like a challenge, but there are several other ways to stay active - walk your pet dog, take a cycle to work or to get groceries, or join a fitness class with a friend. Not only will you stay fit, the exercise will improve your brain function, mood, stress levels, and sleep quality.

Eat Well -

This is a simple one, and probably the most overlooked. We may experience a heightened appetite, sometimes we are so consumed by stress and look to eating as an escape - and an instant one. However, it could turn the other way too. We may find ourselves too anxious to eat, too nervous to even think of food, which is a necessary task to survive. The relationship between our thoughts and our eating habits is extremely important, small habits can go a long way.

For replenishing body, mind, and 6 senses. Consume omega-3, protein, and fiber in your day to keep optimum levels of nutrition and mood in check. Studies indicate that a Meditarranean diet or Pescovegetarian diet are highly beneficial as elements towards sustained, stable mental health. A diet that is good for the body is good for the brain, and vice versa.

Social Media and Internet Usage -

Social media usage has gone up for all ages and populations all over the world. Initially meant for improved connections with friends, family, or in professional spaces, social media has a new meaning now. Our profiles went from being extensions of our personalities, to being our identities.

Companies have designed social media to act on our impulses, an escape from the present surroundings. It is the age of over-information, and instant gratification, and we are addicted! One can track usage of the internet on one’s smart phone or device, and set restrictions. Remind yourself to avoid starting and ending your day with a device in your hand.

Connect with others -

Relationship goals: Good relationships are key elements in our quality of life. Research has shown that connecting with others, having an active social life, and working on maintaining intimacy keeps us going, in sickness and in health. This in turn contributes to our own well being, the community, and society at large. And of course, good mental health.

Mindfulness -

is the state of consciousness, or being aware of an activity or task that you are engaged in at the present moment. It is also a secular meditation practice.

Mindfulness based interventions and approaches in mental health can help individuals stay present in the moment and recognize cravings as temporary thoughts and feelings that will dissipate over time. Over time, they can notice and accept without needing to act on those thoughts or feelings. Mindfulness can be applied to any thing in life, at any moment. In all of the points listed above, practicing mindfulness along with the activity is a super combo. If imbibed in our lifestyle or as a way of living, it has been known to be enriching and uplifting. Mindfulness is also helpful for stress reduction in general.

Other names for mindfulness - consciousness, awareness, concentration, attention, meditation, dhyaan, immersion, present, focus, vigilance, ASMR

Anger and Stress Management -

Anger is a common emotion one might feel more often while on our recovery journey. An individual may feel misunderstood/ impatient/ or simply stressed from the situation, this can lead to aggression and violence too.

Angry feelings also may cause you to withdraw from the world and turn your anger inward, which can impact your health and well-being. Hence, coping with one’s anger and stress can be beneficial for all concerned. Anger management techniques can help you express yourself in a more healthy way, or a completely different way. This will help not only in enhancing your personal growth, but also make a huge difference in your relationships.

Inner Resilience -

An old but gold concept in mental health and illness is developing, maintaining, and striving at one’s own resilience to get better. The journey towards recovery could be a tiresome one, full of dramatic changes and adversity, but what keeps us going is HOPE. There is hope that collective efforts of the individual, family, doctor and treating team for dealing better with the illness can work well - but not without resilience.

While there are hiccups in any journey towards your goals, it is normal to anticipate that some days are different from others and will not go as you wish/plan them to be. Not losing hope and getting back on the cycle again is the key to maintaining your gains from a healthy schedule.

It is often thought that the only way to deal with a mental health issue is with willpower, as if it’s a problem they have to work through all on their own. Encourage your loved one to seek a professional’s help. A combined approach is recommended.

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