Most people who walk into my office are looking for someone to talk to about the emotional distress they’re experiencing such as feelings of depression and anxiety, or problems they’re experiencing in their relationships. What they’re really seeking are solutions to these problems that will reduce their emotional pain. Sometimes people get so caught up in their thoughts, feelings, and problems that life seems so complicated and they forget about the ordinary things in life. At times like these it helps to get back to basics.
Getting back to basics means doing those seemingly mundane activities that actually have a significant impact on our mental health. For now, I’ll focus on three basics that have been shown to enhance our ability to think clearly, regulate our emotions, and improve our overall mood. I like to call them “The Big Three.”
1. Getting enough sleep.
Sleep is an important factor in helping us deal with everyday challenges, responsibilities, and the demands of a hectic schedule. Study after study has shown the benefits of restful sleep such as improved physical health, enhanced memory, boost in creativity, increased attention, and lower levels of stress. Even though we don’t fully understand absolutely everything sleep does for us, we know we feel horrible when we don’t get enough of it. And while it may not be possible to get 8-10 hours of sleep every night, there is always room for improvement and any step made in the right direction is a step towards better mental health.
2. Eating regularly.
The bottom line is our body needs energy to get us through the day and we get out energy from the food we eat. Eating regularly and adequately aids in reducing stress, improving cognitive functioning, and maintaining healthy bones, organs, and muscles. I can think of several ways to justify eating just one meal a day, or just snacking whenever I hear my stomach talking to me. It’s just too easy to forget or be too busy to have an actual meal when we have so much to do and so little time. For many of us it may be unrealistic to fit in three balanced meals every day, and that’s okay. A helpful goal would be to make sure you’re eating routinely and sufficiently to provide your body and mind with enough nutrients to sustain you throughout the day.
Call it what you want - working out, sports, outdoor hobbies, physical activities - just try to do more of it. Everyone knows that exercise is good for your physical health. It can help you shed some pounds, improve your physique, and enhance your sex life. But those aren’t the reasons most people make exercising a priority. Most people exercise regularly because it provides them with an overall sense of well-being. They feel more energetic, get more peaceful sleep, enjoy increased feelings of relaxation, and feel more positive about themselves and their lives. The best part is that anyone can learn to use exercise as a mood booster, regardless of age of fitness level.
So remember, when you feel overwhelmed with life challenges and daily stressors, take some time to reflect on the basics and ensure that these common activities, which on the surface seem trivial and often burdensome but are actually crucial, are given the time and attention they deserve.
By: Emilio Hernandez, MS, LMFT
We are happy to welcome Emilio to Roubicek and Thacker’s talented team of therapists.
Staff bio page coming soon.