The world is in a mental health crisis. My husband’s company repeats the mantra, “It’s okay, not to be okay,” and offers insurance points for seeking mental health support. When I see concerning issues in my healthier-than-the-norm patient population, I know its an even bigger issue in the general population.
Here I offer four tips to improve your mental health in 2022. They are aligned with the four chapters of my e-book, Right Food, Right Sleep, Right Mind State and Right Movement. I encourage you to try one, then add another. These actions are synergistic, which means you get more benefit from doing more than one than either alone.
Take an alcohol-free month. Dry January came up at my family Christmas gathering. Then Jill Dutton, the editor of Evolving Magazine, wrote an article this month on how to do a dry January complete with mocktail recipes. I encourage you to read it. Several of my patients say they started drinking more to do something fun and festive, but now they see its disruptive effects. Most people think alcohol lowers their stress and helps them sleep. Paradoxically, it does the opposite. While it can be stimulating initially, with sustained use it can cause poor memory, concentration, judgment, and reaction time as well as depression and insomnia. My patients who stop or reduce their drinking to 3 – 4 standard drinks per week and not all in one sitting, report improvements in motivation, productivity, sleep, mood, stress handling and physical health. Trouble with cravings? Try n-acetyl- cysteine or NAC 3 – 4 grams divided twice daily. It doesn’t reduce cravings, but it helps you make better choices.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. I scoffed the first time I heard this. Besides, I found nothing more delicious than to sleep in. As more data came in supporting this notion, I had to try it. It works! I sleep better, and my mood, energy and cognition are steadier and more reliable. Patients agree. If for some reason I am tired or need to be off my sleep schedule, I take a 10 – 30-minute nap and get back on my sleep schedule ASAP.
Practice gratitude daily. Choose a time every day to express gratitude. Gratitude can strengthen relationships, self-esteem, and overall mental health. It can nourish happiness and defend against loneliness, jealousy, and other negative emotions. Express it to yourself or write it in a journal. You can even have a gratitude partner, keeping each other accountable to this practice by texting or emailing each other what you are grateful for every day. Gratitude can become habit-forming. You may find yourself expressing gratitude throughout the day because it feels so good. It doesn’t have to be huge. My favorite gratitude: the moon. It never ceases to bring me joy. Still having trouble? Take a break from the news and social media.
Get cold weather exercise gear. Once the weather gets cold, most of my patients stop exercising outdoors, which means they stop exercising. Norwegians say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” and you know their weather is much colder and wintrier than ours! I bicycle to work until the thermometer or wind chill reads 15 degrees unless precipitation or high winds stop me. The secret: the right gear. Warm boots are a must. I love the fleece-lined leggings from Athleta. I layer a fleece vest, then a fleece jacket, then a down jacket, removing a layer depending on the temperature. I own a variety of gloves, hats, and neck gaiters of different weights. Forget vanity, you must cover your head! Traction cleats that go over my boots or shoes keep me walking when it is icy. My favorite gear store: REI, for their expertise and generous return policy. They have great sales, too, so get on their mailing list.
Dr. Bethany Klug has practiced holistic and functional medicine since 2003, after it resolved health challenges that conventional medicine could not address for her. She is known for taking time to listen and to tease out the root causes that when addressed lead to more vibrant health. The name of her practice, HealthSpan, was inspired by her wish for everyone to enjoy lifelong vibrant health, instead of a long life plagued by chronic disease. She is known as an osteopath, and for her skill in natural medicine and bioidentical hormone replacement. Her practice is located in Prairie Village, KS, a suburb of Kansas City. Learn more at HealthSpanKC.com.