Join the Voices For Recovery, Part 4: Give yourself a break
Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of a four-part series of columns about mental health and wellness.
This September, in honor of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Recovery Month, the Health Partnership has released this wellness series exploring the healing power of social connection, laughter, nutrition, exercise and learning. In this final piece, we discuss the importance of downshifting.
Amid our busy lives, it can be hard to remember to take time for relaxation. Stress is inevitable, and some types of stress are even good for you (see Part 2 of this series). Even so, your body and brain need a break. Chronic stress leads to inflammation, putting you at higher risk for both mental and physical complications, such as heart disease, headaches, GI problems, sexual dysfunction and even cancer.
Finding and maintaining good mental health often involves several aspects of our lives: social, emotional, physical, mental and spiritual. When one of these facets crumbles, a domino effect may ensue. Self-care may seem like the lowest priority for those who organize their lives in service to others, but all things need routine maintenance. Cars need oil changes. Computers need updates. Buildings need renovations. And to be good at things you take pride in, you need a break.
Just like nutrition and movement, sleep plays a fundamental role for your physical and emotional health. Good quantity and quality of sleep goes beyond preventing crankiness; it affects your entire body, including your hormones, brain function, moods, immune system and even your metabolism and appetite.
What: Andy Irons: Kissed by God
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 11
Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and that school-age children get nine to 11 hours each night. Don’t put it off thinking that you can “catch up” on sleep later; sleep repairs, rejuvenates and detoxifies your body at the cellular level, and if you short yourself on these processes throughout the week, your body will not do overtime work on the weekend. Visit sleep.org for strategies to improve the quality of your sleep and learn more about how sleep impacts your short- and long-term health.
It may be easy to see how nutrition, exercise and sleep directly affect bodily function, but did you know that meditation can have a similar effect on your brain? We’re not just talking about thinking and emotional patterns, either. Meditation supports neurogenesis — the building of brain cells — in the part of your brain that controls learning and memory, which is the region that has been linked to depression — the hippocampus. That’s right, meditation can literally grow your brain.
Meditation doesn’t have to be perfect or time-consuming. Just 10 to 20 minutes of intentional, quiet reflection can help relieve stress, improve memory and support positive thoughts for resilience, all while growing new cells and connections in your brain. You can listen to music, nature or nothing at all. You can try to think of pleasant things, visualize solving a problem or think of nothing at all. Breathe deep and position yourself in a comfortable place. Need some extra help, or skeptical of meditation? Go high-tech and find an app that will help you to get started with this practice.
Give yourself free time
Yes, seriously. Find it. Keep it sacred. Demand it for yourself. Insist on it for your family. Journal, draw, bake or go for a walk. Fill it with whatever strikes you in the moment. To find some ideas, go back and read parts 1 through 3 of this series.
There are many paths to wellness and recovery. For professional help options, visit mindspringshealth.org. Don’t miss the final documentary screening of Andy Irons: Kissed by God on Oct. 11 at the Chief Theater.
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