As a member of the mental health community, I’m a major advocate for improving the world’s overall mental health. Whether you spend large amounts of time in therapy or you are a “happy” person, you can benefit from self-care. Healthy bodies breed healthy minds, so you must keep both your body and mind functioning well. Therefore, you should remain mindful of these 4 physical factors that affect your mental health.

1. Be mindful of what you are putting into your body.

We all know that a poor diet can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. Did you know that it can also cause a greater risk of depression? Research shows that a diet that consists of high amounts of of processed, fried, and sugary foods can increase the risk of developing depression by as much as 60%. This is because our diet is directly linked to our hippocampus, a key area of the brain involved in learning, memory, and mental health. There have also been studies about the negative impact of large amounts of caffeine, especially caffeine from soda. Caffeine only provides a temporary boost in energy, and leaves us feeling low afterwards

On days when I drink the recommended amount of water, eat vegetables and fruits, and prepare my own food, I feel a lot better about my life in general. I do sometimes feel better after a bowl of ice cream, but I take all things in moderation.

2. Be mindful of how much you exercise.

Exercise does the body good in so many ways, and we need to keep that in mind. In fact, poor exercise can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Inversely, regular exercise increases several substances that impact brain function, such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Research shows that all of these brain chemicals combat mental illnesses and keep our brains functioning well.

You don’t need to “get buff,” but keep movement in mind, especially when you feel low. Just one hour of exercise per week has been shown to reduce levels of mood disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse.

3. Be mindful of your sleep patterns.

Sleep plays such an important role in our physical and emotional health, yet we often find ourselves cutting it out in order to increase our productivity. Cutting sleep actually can have the opposite effect, though, so it’s rather senseless for us to do that. Sleep impacts our mood, our ability to learn and retain memories, our metabolism, and also our immune system. 7-9 hours is the recommended amount of sleep for adults, but just getting the hours in isn’t enough; you need to make sure that the sleep you are getting is quality sleep. Poor quality of sleep can increase the risk of negative mental health such as psychosis, mania, paranoia, anxiety, and depression.

I know that mental health providers stress good sleep hygiene and nightly routines that prepare you for sleep. There are studies about room temperature, lighting, sound, and other sleep conditions. Also, there is a lot of information out there about what you should do even 2-3 hours before bedtime. If you struggle with sleep at all, consider researching sleep hygiene further to improve both your sleep and your overall health.

4. Be mindful of your environment.

Stress is a common part of life, and there’s no perfect answer for creating a stress-free life. There are always ways to reduce stress and cope with stress in your life, though. For example, look at your daily environment and see what you can improve. Remove clutter and surround yourself with things that make you happy, such as photographs or artwork.

Also, be cautious of the people you spend time around and how you treat those you interact with. This mind sound silly, but it can really help you build a more harmonious life.

Personally, I frequently remind myself to maintain realistic expectations. I also highly recommend hobbies, as they give you a way to mindfully escape your stress. Finally, mindfulness practice is a great way to cope with stress and improve your outlook, so find ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day.

Mental health is an important area of our lives and we need to be mindful of how we care for ourselves. I can personally attest that several of these suggestions have impacted my life for the positive. Mental health is important to all of us, and without proper self-care, we cannot function at all, let alone well, as our lives move full-speed.

Previously Published on Unwritten