This new year, skip the fad diets and overly ambitious workout regimens and resolve to focus on your emotional and mental wellbeing.
As we flip the calendar to start of a new year, it is easy to head into a fresh round of 365 days with the standard resolutions—workout more, eat healthier, earn more, drink less. While these are all worthy and wise objectives, it is time to take a fresh approach to those small tweaks we make to our lifestyle. “Healthy daily routines, such as exercising regularly, getting sufficient sleep, having down time or engaging in relaxing activities, and accessing social support can be viewed as preventive measures that boost emotional resiliency and help us tackle daily challenges,” explained Maria Aranda, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist.
Below are a few relatively easy changes you can make that will have a big impact on your mental wellbeing in 2020.
Get a Better Night’s Sleep
A large body of research has shown that sleep deprivation can have a significant negative effect on mood. “Literally, lack of sleep can kill a person,” Aranda said. “It is widely known that when we change our clocks in the spring and lose one hour of sleep, heart attacks increase 25 percent. Even the Guinness Book of World Records no longer allows anyone to compete for the longest amount of time awake, given the disastrous effects it has on the person’s brain and body.”
Changing your pre-bedtime habits can also improve sleep patterns. “Sleep hygiene is what we call the set of behaviors that we engage that promotes restful sleep,” Aranda explained. “All in all, these behaviors and routines work if implemented in a consistent manner. For example, alcohol disrupts sleep, so if you are trying to catch some solid hours of sleep, avoid it.”
Aranda added that shutting down screens and engaging in restful activity before sleep, as well as trying to maintain a consistent sleep and wake schedule, are small steps that can have a big effect on sleep quantity and quality.
Controlling weight and becoming more fit aren’t the only benefits that come from exercise. Exercise not only boosts mood by releasing chemicals like endorphins and serotonin; it also gets you out into to world to help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. “Aerobic exercise in particular releases natural antidepressants in the brain. In addition, some studies are also showing that being outside in nature can have real beneficial effects on mood,” Aranda said.
Starting a regular exercise regimen doesn’t necessarily mean signing up for a rigorous boot camp or investing hundreds of dollars in fancy exercise gear and equipment. The key is to view physical activity as an integral part of life rather than an added bonus when time permits. A simple way to get started is by walking more—it is free, easy and can be done just about anywhere, including the numerous sidewalks and trails right here in Westchase and our Northwest neighborhoods. If motivation is a problem, enlist a friend or family member to accompany you on those daily walks.
Pick up (or Revisit) a Hobby
Statistics show the average American works far more than the standard 40-hour work week. In addition, there is an increase in the number of workers who forgo their full allotment of vacation days each year. With so many hours spent at work, it can be easy to fall into a rut of doing little else. Keeping our brains stimulated with meaningful activities we enjoy is paramount to mental wellbeing. This year, make a commitment to try something new, or revisit an activity you once enjoyed. Just remember to start small. It can be a simple as picking up a book of short stories and committing to reading one a day or grabbing a camera the next time you are out for a walk and testing out your photography skills. Not sure where to start? Check out this list of 100 hobbies to try: hobbyhelp.com/inspiration/list-of-hobbies.
Scroll through Social Media in Moderation
Ah, social media. We love you for connecting us with long-distance family and friends and for keeping us amused with your seemingly endless supply of memes, but, oh, the downsides! Aranda warned that relying too much on digital interpersonal connections can decrease the amount of time we spend with our real, face-to-face friends. For children, Aranda added that increasing amounts of time spent on screens can weaken attention capacity and increase moodiness and irritability. “We are only starting to learn how increased screen time affects the development of the brain, so proceed carefully with children.”
This doesn’t mean you have to kick the habit entirely, but scrolling in moderation and carving out screen-free time for the entire family can be extremely refreshing. And if you are feeling at all emotionally vulnerable, skip the comments section entirely.
Write it Down
Journaling isn’t just for wannabe writers and lovelorn teenagers. The act of writing down one’s thoughts and feelings is a healthy form of expression that can help manage anxiety and reduce stress. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Start by keeping a pen and paper (or laptop) handy and setting aside time each day to write something down—whether it is a poignant reflection on your hopes and dreams or a single adjective that best describes your day. Simply start by writing what immediately comes to mind. Keeping a journal helps create order out of chaos and allows you to get in touch with your innermost thoughts and fears. Find a relaxing spot to do your daily writing and view your time spent journaling as a form of relaxation.
Psychological research has consistently linked gratitude with greater happiness. Taking the time to acknowledge the good in our lives stirs positive emotions and puts the focus on happy memories, rather than past regrets. There are a number of ways to incorporate gratitude into you daily life from jotting a thank you note to a friend or family member and keeping a gratitude journal to having each member of the family state one thing they are grateful for that day while gathered around the dinner table.
Healthy eating should be approached as a means to fuel your mind and body with the nutrients necessary to run optimally, not as a means to fit in those jeans you’ve been hanging onto since college. While research on food and mood is still in its early stages, there are a number of foods that show great promise in boosting brain health and will do your body good as well. Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like wild salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts help build healthy gut bacteria and have been shown to improve mood. Whole grains in foods like quinoa, brown rice and steel-cut oatmeal are important sources of B vitamins, nutrients vital for brain health, while leafy greens contain the B vitamin folate, which has been shown to play a possible role in the metabolism of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline (neurotransmitters important for mood).
Spend Time with a Furry Friend
According to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health, interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support and boost your mood. Pet ownership is a huge undertaking, however, and should not be entered into lightly. If you are not quite ready for that lifetime commitment, volunteer to walk a neighbor’s dog or spend time helping out at a local shelter.
Tell Yourself Something Positive
Fans of Saturday Night Live in the 90s may recall the character Stuart Smalley and his famous daily affirmations in the mirror: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”
While that character was a bit over the top, research has shown that how you think about yourself can have a powerful effect on how you feel. If you are in the habit of berating yourself when mistakes are made, try making small tweaks to the language you use with yourself. When you make a mistake, instead of using internal language like, “I’m such an idiot. Why did I even do that?” try something along the lines of, “I can learn from this and it will be easier next time.”
Know When to Seek Professional Help
All of the aforementioned suggestions can help promote overall mental and physical wellbeing; however, they are certainly no substitute for professional care for those who are suffering from a mental health condition. Mental illness is just that—an illness. Like diabetes or heart disease, mental illness requires professional treatment and intervention to maintain a healthy mind and body. The type of treatment will depend on the diagnosis, but first it is imperative that you are honest with yourself when you feel you may be experiencing something more than just a rough patch.
“Too often, we tell ourselves, ‘I should be stronger than this,’” stated Natasha Pierre, Board Vice President for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hillsborough County. “The first step is to give yourself permission to be strong and say, ‘I might need a little more help.’”
Unlike many physical ailments, there is no simple test that can quickly determine if someone is suffering from a mental illness. Each illness is unique and symptoms can present themselves differently from person to person. “Usually if there are changes in daily functioning for more than a few weeks, it might be time to seek professional help,” Aranda noted. “This means difficulties with carrying out regular activities such as eating, sleeping, grooming or going to work or school. Any type of suicidal ideation (‘I wish I were not here,’ ‘everyone would be better without me’) is a sign that help is needed as soon as possible.”
Our country’s youth is becoming extremely susceptible to mental illness. According to NAMI, one in six U.S. youth age 6-17 experiences a mental health disorder each year. What is more alarming is that suicide has become the second leading cause of death among people age 10-34. “In 2020, it will become the leading cause of death,” Pierre added.
Yet, Mental Health America notes that more than 70 percent of youth with major depressive disorder are still in need of treatment. Much has been done in our country to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, but we still have a long way to go. “We need to educate parents,” Pierre said. “Sometimes we ignore what we see and brush it off as teens just being teens. Mental health is health. Acknowledging that there is a problem doesn’t mean you failed as a parent.”
“From the time that kids start talking, focus on helping them become aware of their feelings. Just like you would teach a child that this round, red object that you eat and tastes sweet is called an ‘apple,’ you have to teach them that when you cry and your body feels heavy, it is called ‘sadness,”’ Aranda added. “Help them talk about their feelings and listen and validate. Validate means to show understanding and acceptance of what the person is saying, not that you may necessarily agree, but that you understand. Examples of non-validation are statements such as ‘don’t feel that way’ or ‘you are making a big deal of this.’ A lifelong history of listening, accepting and validating will help keep a strong connection with your child, which is a great protective factor in mental health.”
Pierre added that as a society we have gotten better about talking to our kids about sensitive subjects like sex education. We need to have that same attitude when it comes to talking about mental health. “We need to undo this ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality and start having conversations with our kids about mental health and suicide,” she said. “The world has changed. Our kids are doing active shooter drills in school…”
If you or a loved one feels the need to seek help, it is important to take that first step. “Talk to a friend, a family member, your primary care doctor or pediatrician,” Aranda advised. “Talking to someone, anyone, starts the process of releasing feelings from secrecy and helps alleviate shame and loneliness.”
“Just start somewhere,” Pierre added.
If you are having thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
By Karen Ring
2020 Health and Wellness Guide Summaries
WOW thanks the following physicians and health/fitness businesses for helping to bring you the Health and Wellness Special. The listings on these pages represent paid advertisements in conjunction with the Health and Wellness Special. Paid advertising is not an endorsement by WOW, Inc. Interested residents should contact the businesses and ask all relevant questions prior to engaging their services.
AdventHealth Centra Care
As a hospital affiliated urgent care provider operating over 30 locations, Centra Care provides patients with fast and convenient care for urgent, non-emergency medical needs.
AdventHealth Carrollwood is a faith-based, 103-bed hospital nationally recognized for quality and patient safety, offering comprehensive services, including heart and vascular care, spine surgery and orthopedics, wound care, bariatrics and emergency care in a state-of-the-art facility.
Board certified physicians in allergy, asthma, immunology; adults and peds. Pollen, dander, molds, immunotherapy. Food allergies-oral desensitization. Venoms, meds. Cough. Sinusitis. Asthmatic conditions.
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Internal Medicine & Pediatrics of Tampa Bay
Our board-certified doctors and nurse practitioners provide the highest quality of primary care for newborns, children, teens and adults in the Westchase area.
Jazzercise Westchase Fitness Center
Jazzercise, the original dance party! A full body work-out that combines dance, strength, and resistance training set to your favorite beats. All fitness levels welcome.
J. Russell Lowrey, DPM, FACFAS – Foot & Ankle Specialists
Dr. Russ Lowrey treats all foot, ankle, and leg conditions and sees patients of all ages. Dr. Lowrey has been a Westchase resident since 1999.
Lotus Pond Yoga Studio and Center for Health
The Lotus Pond is a full-service yoga studio, offering 200 and 300-hour Yoga Teacher Training programs, workshops and classes seven days a week.
Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA
When you join the Y, you’re committing to more than achieving fitness resolutions. You’re supporting the values and programs that strengthen your community. Join today!
Sushma Jakkula, founder of Ojas Ayurveda, is a NAMA recognized Ayurvedic Doctor providing Ayurvedic consultations, education and therapies since 2002. Ayurveda helps to detox, improve immunity and healing abilities
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Studio 108 Yoga & Holistic Healing has been keeping Tampa spiritually and physically fit for six years. It was recently voted the third best yoga studio in Florida and number one in Tampa.
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Westchase Pediatric Care
Westchase Pediatric Care is a NCQA certified patient centered medical home providing compassionate, family-centered care. We strive to promote your child’s physical and emotional well-being.
Your CBD Store Oldsmar
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