Living Well Integrative Health Center

2176 Windsor Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. (902) 406-1500

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Mental Wealth by Dr. Maria Patriquin MD CCFP

July 2, 2017

MENTAL WEALTH for publication on public DRS NS Blog Summer 2017

We live in a culture and a time where feeling “stressed” is considered normal. Typically we consider our mental health when we consider something to have “gone wrong”. One in four will experience mental “illness” in our lifetime and we all experience various degrees of “suffering of the soul” as I call it. But what if it were that we could influence this in a positive way?

Metaphors are powerful. They help us see old things in new ways and to change the way we respond to an experience. What if we were able to respond to our experience of ourselves with greater flexibility, cognitive ability, skill, more support and resilience? What if we didn’t settle for “getting by” and coping but were to aim for thriving and flourishing so that we lived with more self and life satisfaction?

What if I told you that there was something that you could invest in that would be safe, secure and guarantee a good return? You’d want to put some money on it. Metaphorically speaking this investment is you. Investing in our mental health amasses mental wealth. The principle is simple. We make more deposits and we build wealth. In a time of need we can withdraw and pay ourselves from our profits or gains. Research has demonstrated just where to put those personal investments for the greatest return.

Eat well: What you eat strongly influences your daily and future mood. Try eating more fatty fish, nuts, berries, colorful veggies, multigrain and leafy greens and cut down on meat. You’ve got to put good things in to get good out.

Be grateful. Take in the good; notice, enjoy and give thanks. Write down 3 things a day you are grateful for. A kind word, a child passing that smiled at you, the setting sun are good examples. The key is they can’t ever repeat. Gratitude for self i.e. in the form of journaling also helps foster self-compassion and elevates mood and sense of connection to others. Its is expressive and creative.

Mindfulness & Meditation: Regular practice increases awareness, mood, and concentration and decreases stress and reactivity.

People who make mindfulness a habit have a greater sense of purpose and experience less mental and physical illness. The benefits conferred by mindfulness can take as little as 10-25 minutes a day. Use a short-guided meditation or scan to start. See www.livingwellihc.ca or www.marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations

Get outside. With as little as 5 minutes there are noticeable changes in mood and sense of self. Green space and getting more light affects our feeling connected to nature and others. It reduces unpleasant feelings like stress, anger and fear. We ruminate less and feel happier. It helps us reset our “attention” ability, increases creativity, is energizing and we sleep better.

Socialize and build a healthy tribe. Interacting, talking and sharing increases our cognitive function and research suggests that some of the cognitive boosts may be immediate. Our greatest drive is to belong and connect. When we have strong social ties we engage in more healthy behaviours and actually live longer. A strong social network can be relied upon and makes us more resilient to the stress in hard times. Call a friend, have dinner with family, attend church, go to art shows, join groups, volunteer, frequent community, centers and the library. And when all else fails, make conversation with the people you meet, for instance at a coffee shop, grocery store, hairdresser, or doctor’s office.

Sleep more: The average adult’s basal sleep needs from age 18 to death is 7.5 to 8.5 hours per night. A good nights sleep leads to less irritability, anger and unpleasant mood states. It helps us manage stress. But it’s all about the right amount. Oversleeping also contributes to lower mood.

Do/learn something new: stimulating our brains at any age reduces cognitive decline. It provides opportunity for flow and mastery and in the process we just might find other things that add meaning and purpose to our lives. We feel good about ourselves and build a sense of trust in our abilities.

Move /Exercise. Walking is great, taking stairs, even just standing more during your day has health benefits. Moderate exercise immediately boosts our feel good chemicals letting us feel more energetic and positive. Exercise has more positive mental and

physical health benefits than any single medication.

Engage therapy from a positive psychology perspective. Therapy actually works best from a good mood state. Most of us only consider therapy as something we require if we’re down and out. This is metaphorically like seeing the banker when we think we need a loan to get us through a tight spot because we didn’t plan and budget. Therapy fosters awareness, helps us delve deep into ourselves, to examine our values and what is getting in the way of us living our lives fully. We can acquire skills and build stress tolerance, optimism and resilience. We can also process old hurts and traumas so they become lessons not life sentences. I suggest strengths based positive psychology approach that incorporates mindfulness, emotion focused, and cognitive behavioral therapy. ACT is my favorite. See www.livingwellihc.ca for programming.

Accept failure: Failure and setbacks are part of learning. Thinking of failing as a mistake is a mistake. We learn from our mistakes and knowing where we feel vulnerable helps us know where to put more investments.

Be kind. It leads to positive feelings, self-esteem, optimism and feeling connected. Giving regularly improves our sense of self worth and life satisfaction. As little as one positive act a week can lead to more happiness. The amazing thing about kindness is it sets up a positive feedback loop; doing a kind deed makes you feel happier and the happier we feel the more likely we are to do another kind act.

Think optimistically. Don’t think it’s in you? Think again! Optimism can be learned and can fuel your motivation for change. The optimist views a set back as a temporary external event. Seeing obstacles as a challenge rather than a personal failure helps us persevere. In order to achieve anything, optimism is not merely desirable, but necessary. Martin Seligman wrote a book “Learned optimism”; it’s worth the read.

Invest in yourself. Grow mental wealth. It is guaranteed to give you a good return for your investment. 

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