As we come to the end of Mental Health week I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on and learning about mental health.
what has become apparent to me is that there is still a great deal of shame, misunderstanding and ignorance around the topic. The biggest issue appears to be the misconception that Mental Health issues are “All in the mind.” While there are wonderfully simple ways of improving and strengthening your state of mind, it must be accepted that our brains, and therefore our minds, are a part of our physical being.
Essentially, it’s the imbalance of chemicals and hormones produced by our bodies and brains that cause deregulation of our emotions. Chemicals that dictate our mood are not only produced in the brain for the brain. For example, Serotonin is also produced in the gut, meaning there is a direct link between the food we eat and how we feel. This would explain why many of us associate food with feelings.
In order to better understand mental health, think of it as an extension of physical health and, just like our physical health, our mental health requires a constant effort to maintain peak fitness.
The saying “healthy body, healthy mind” could not be more accurate.
However, just like being healthy doesn’t stop you from breaking a leg or getting a cold, keeping a healthy mind cannot make you immune to mental health illness. What being healthy can do though, is alleviate some of the symptoms and help one recover from periods of poor mental health.
Our brain is like the engine of our vehicle. It needs great fuel, rest, exertion, constant fine tuning and every now and then a full service!!!
If we are to look at what our physical brain needs to remain healthy, it is far more than the rest of our body! Our bodies also need energy, rest and to carry just the right amount of weight for our organs to function at their best.
Our brains need:
A varied diet. Essential fats, vitamins and minerals all influence the neurotransmitters within our brains.
Exercise. Problem solving and learning help develop our brain’s strength and resilience.
Rest. Our brains use 20% of our energy in order for them to function at their best they need quality sleep and rest.
Connection. Physical connection like a massage, or emotional connection like a conversation with a friend improves brain health.
Meditation. There have been studies with armed forces which proved that those who practiced mindfulness were more resilient to trauma.
Interventions. Just like taking a paracetamol for backache or antibiotics for infection, every now and then our brains need a helping hand to regain optimal health.
Therapy, counselling, hypnosis and medication all have a place in the treatment of brain health and the restoration of it.
The chemicals found in processed food, recreational drugs and alcohol do impact the health of our brains. As does poor sleep, a lack of movement, excessive stress, adverse life experiences and disconnection from others. The longer we expose our brains to these negative things and ignore the impacts of them on our brain, the more damage we cause.
My hope is that mental health is thought of more as brain health and just like any other physical ailment, every now and then our brain suffers impaired health that can, does and will get better with the correct actions and interventions.