Are you always looking for more tools for managing your mental health condition – new, or more effective, approaches that will help you feel better? Maybe you already see a psychotherapist to learn better coping and communication skills, and perhaps also a psychiatrist for your meds. Both of these interventions, psychotherapy and medication, are well-studied and effective – but sometimes they simply aren’t enough.
What most people don’t realize is that additional help is available – and doesn’t require a prescription. I’m talking about lifestyle changes, like exercise, mindfulness meditation, sleep, social connectedness, and nutrition – they can all improve mental wellness. This is not just my clinical impression – these are effective, well-studied wellness interventions. Here’s what the data tells us:
- Exercise is a helpful anti-depressant intervention. The recommended “dose” of exercise for the treatment of depression is 14 miles of walking per week. Agreed, this sounds like a lot, but let’s break it down. This is only 30-minutes of brisk walking per day – a pace of 4 miles/hour will get you to 2 miles/day. If you have physical limitations, you can break this down into two 15-minute blocks of time or three 10-minute blocks of time.
- Mindfulness Meditation (MM) has been shown to delay the time between depressive episodes. Put another way, MM is known to increase periods of time that are symptom free. How much meditation time do you need in order to see benefits? That depends on who you ask and your specific situation. Recommendations vary from one-hour a day, 6 days a week to a total of one-hour of meditation over 3 consecutive days. Here are a couple of websites you may find helpful as you begin exploring the world of MM:
- Quality sleep is a critical to overall wellness. Data seems to show that there is a sweet spot when it comes to how much sleep is best – roughly 6 to 8 hours per night is recommended. Restricted or excessive sleep leads to health problems so it’s best to set a regular bedtime aiming for 6-8 hours of sleep per night.
- Social connections matter. Those that are more socially connected appear to live longer, and experience fewer health problems. Social connectedness comes in many flavors – getting together with others for coffee, dinner, or a movie, joining some type of club – the options are endless. These activities are considered Macro-Socialization (large) but don’t forget about Micro-Socialization (small) opportunities – interacting with strangers or casual acquaintances in brief social interactions like speaking to someone on an elevator, or sharing a kind word with a person in a checkout line. Each encounter – macro or micro – counts so get out there and connect!
- Food choices make a difference in terms of mental health. Data for those following the MIND Diet, a blend of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, report a 54% reduction in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, which is quite impressive especially for our aging population.
When I say “mental wellness”, it may sound like a far off goal to you – a golden ring, just out of reach. But you can improve your mental wellness – you have the ability to implement changes that can move you closer to grabbing that golden ring.