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Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019

Make Mental Health a Priority for 2019!

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Tips for keeping your mind sharp

The new year is an exciting time of new beginnings, resolutions and the promise of a brand new year.

This year, instead of focusing on losing 10 pounds or going to the gym on a regular basis, try putting your mental health at the top of your New Year’s resolution list. By making mental health a priority, you may improve more areas of your life than you realize.

Mental health refers to your emotional well-being, how you cope with the normal stressors of life, and how you work and contribute to your community. It is relevant to everyone, not just individuals suffering from mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. There are numerous things you

can do to help promote your mental health.

• Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the most fundamental functions we need to perform in order to thrive as a person. Yet more and more, inadequate sleep and chronic sleep deprivation are being seen in all levels of society. Many of our daily conveniences interfere with the development of healthy sleep routines. Technology appears to be one of the biggest culprits. Either being exposed to the blue light from television and computers, which suppresses the brain’s natural melatonin levels, or checking our phone for one last email before we go to bed, prohibits many of us from getting the restful sleep we need. Eliminating electronics from the bedroom or at least moving them away from the bed and having a “cut off” time, such as one hour before bedtime, can help promote a better night’s sleep.

• Develop social supports. Feeling connected to other people is an important part of your mental health. Loneliness and isolation have been shown to result in premature death, more so than poor diet or exercise. Humans are meant to be social creatures, and we need to connect with others. Improving friend and family relationships helps us cope with stress and helps to prevent mental health problem. One goal for the new year could be to improve and strengthen your social connections.

• Practice the art of gratitude. Our mothers taught us that good manners are part of pleasant social interactions, but recently scientists have started to pay attention to the principle of gratitude and the situations in which it increases or decreases. Researchers have found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a variety of unexpected benefits. These include higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, optimism and happiness. Those acting with more generosity and compassion toward others report less feelings of loneliness and isolation.

• Move your body. Dieting has been linked to feelings of poor body image. Self-loathing is not good for our mental health. However, eating a well-balanced diet and increasing one’s physical activity, such as walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator when possible, or walking the dog is beneficial. Exercise can decrease anxiety and depression and promote mental health, not to mention the positive side effect of improvement in one’s appearance.

• Seek help if you need it. Too many of us have been raised with a “pull yourself up by your boot straps” mentality and think that when the dark times hit, we should just be able to “snap out of it.” Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. Just like any other organ in the body, the mind gets sick and needs the help of a professional. The holidays can be a very hard time for people who have experienced loss or don’t have the picture-perfect family. Talk to your doctor if you think you need help. If you are in a crisis, go to the local emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800- 273-8255.

Your mental health is critical to every aspect of your life – how you function at work, how you interact with friends and family, and how you participate in your community. Consider prioritizing your mental health this year for a healthier and happier 2019!

Michelle Yetman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and an assistant clinical professor in the School of Allied Health Professions and the Children’s Center at LSU Health Shreveport. Dr. Yetman is a licensed clinical psychologist who is a member of both the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA).


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