Mental health is kind of like car maintenance: It does not matter if you have the nicest car in the world. It will still need to be maintained eventually. Similarly, you can be the smartest, most mentally durable person in the world. But your mind still needs to be maintained too.
The question for a lot of people is: How? The mind seems mysterious to almost everyone. Even psychologists have differing theories on how the human mind really works. And it does not help that cultures since the dawn of time have even stranger, more mystically inclined views on it.
In short, what is best for the human mind is not always clear cut. However, there are a few things that experts have figured out will definitely help you stay mentally healthy.
Let’s go over a few of the best strategies for treating mental health concerns and how they work.
Talking to People Always Helps
Isolation warps people’s ability to act in a lot of ways. There are two layers to it: The cognitive and the chemical. Without interfacing with other people, you both forget how to act around other people, and you forget how people act. This can affect your level of comfort around others.
Not being able to relate to people is one of the easiest ways towards mental unease. But conversely, being able to relate to people is one of the easiest ways to become more comfortable, both with yourself and with others. But why is that happening exactly?
That is where the chemical factor of talking with people comes in. When you talk to people the body releases a variety of chemicals. The two most important ones are dopamine, which you can think of as “the happiness chemical”, and serotonin, which helps you relax and sleep.
Sometimes, if you are spending time with people whom you really connect to, your body will release oxytocin. This is usually reserved for the closest friends and family members, as it is an extremely powerful chemical. To give context, it is the hormone released during childbirth to make women in labor endure the pain. It also builds the bond between parent and child.
Going without talking to people will cause an imbalance of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. That means less happiness, worse sleep, and less strong bonds with others.
Getting Physically Active Covers a Lot of Needs
But talking to people is not the only place to get dopamine and serotonin. Exercise also releases them. It does not happen in the same amounts, so you are unlikely to feel ecstatically happy or anything like that. But the important thing to understand is how hormones like dopamine work.
Mental health is a cognitive process, meaning that it is heavily influenced by how you think. But something that is often overlooked is that it is also influenced by the chemical state of your brain. If you have a chronic lack of dopamine, then no amount of positive thinking will help.
We put “the happiness chemical” in quotes when we first talked about it because while it can lead you to feeling happy, that is not actually its primary function. A big part of dopamine’s role in the body is to speed up the processing of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress.
Therefore, having dopamine in your system will not just make you feel happy. It will make you less stressed. This is important in the context of exercise, because while exercise does not give you enough dopamine to feel happy in the ecstatic sort of way, it does give you enough dopamine to help deal with the stress hormones in your body. It is simply a chemical reaction.
On top of that, exercise helps with basically every chemical reaction in your body. Your muscles relax easier when they have been used previously, your stomach works better when your blood is flowing, and even your brain is more focused when it experiences the release of tension.
Mindfulness is Critical
We have talked a lot about the chemical state of your mind and body and how it plays into your mental health. But we have also mentioned the “cognitive” side of things. Let’s focus in on that, as many experts argue that it is just as important in good mental health.
Cognition in mental health is all about having a good state of mind. If your mind is constantly thinking negative thoughts, then you will bring yourself down even if you are in a good situation.
But it is not just about “thinking positively”. Sometimes negative thoughts are valuable. The core skill that a person needs to learn in order to be cognitively healthy is mindfulness. You need to be able to recognize the situation you are in as either good, bad, or at least neutral.
That means practicing being aware of your environment and what it means relative to you. Are you somewhere safe? Are you somewhere that is beneficial to your physical health? Are you around people who care about you? If you have any or all of these things and fail to notice them, then that can both indicate and lead to anxiety problems.
Most anxiety problems are defined by issues with mindfulness, as anxiety problems will make mindfulness difficult. Working to hone your skill in mindfulness can help you fight an anxiety problem by recognizing whether or not you are in a situation worth stressing over.
There are situations worth getting stressed over. But it is perfectly possible that you are feeling or acting stressed, afraid, or angry in a situation that does not call for it.
One of the things we want to emphasize is that poor mental health is not anyone’s “fault”. We used the metaphor of the car needing maintenance earlier because like a car, your brain might be developing problems just from being a complex thing that is constantly working.
But there are ways of repairing the brain. Come and visit us if you want some help: https://epiphanywellness.com/