The below options include information about ways to positively influence biological factors which have been found to possibly improve your mental health by impacting your body.
Boost Your Exercise Routine
Better to make it something you can stick with...
Repeated research has shown that moderate walking approximately 20-30 minutes most days a week not only reduces cardiovascular risk (as well as a myriad of other health conditions) but can improve mood and anxiety levels as well. Two recent studies from The Lancet Psychiatry and JAMA Psychiatry highlight the importance of mood and exercise. The Lancet article showed that most exercise, ranging the gamut from gardening to jogging, has a significant mental health benefit. The JAMA Psychiatry article demonstrates specifically that two days of resistance training decreases depressive symptoms.
It makes sense then to come up with a progressive exercise routine that starts with you doing something today and gradually builds up to doing some type of exercise most days during the week. Remember, it takes about 3 weeks to build a habit and to start low and go slow to avoid injury and to work with your physician if you have any physical health concerns.
If you already have an exercise routine, that's awesome - keep up the good work! And remember, there is some benefit to adding something new to your routine as novelty can have a positive psychological impact.
Challenge 1: Reserve 20 minutes this week and go on a walk, even better, do this with a friend! If you have a fitness tracker, it is suggested to aim for 10,000 steps a day.
Challenge 2: Three days this week, practice mild stretching and if you are without injury and able, use your own body as weight resistance by tackling some mountain climbers or pushups or situps.
Breathe Away Stress and Anxiety
When we breathe, we have an opportunity not only to keep ourselves alive but to calm our selves down in the process, depending on how we breathe. This may sound too simple to the point that you may want to dismiss it. However, research and anatomy has shown the powerful impact that controlling our stress and anxiety through our breathing can enhance performance and promote calmness.
There is a literal connection between our brain and our breath via the Vagus Nerve (CN X). When we breath in and move our belly out this stretches the diaphragm which stimulates CN X (belly breathing). This triggers a cascade of events that relaxes us through the parasympathetic nervous system.
Challenge: Try watching this video and practice 5 minutes of "belly breathing" or diaphragmatic breathing.
Improve Your Sleep
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)
Sleep is one of the most important biological variables impacting mental health. CBT-I has been shown to be effective and once you become a patient of Dr. Burson you *will have access to training videos on CBT-I which cover a breadth of material that can be implemented over a series of weeks.
In the meantime, this is a helpful talk about strategies to overcome insomnia.
Challenge: To get things started, this week, you could start keeping track of when you go to bed, when you fall asleep and how much you sleep to determine your sleep efficiency which is the ratio of your time asleep to the time in bed.
Then, over the next week, adjust your time in bed so that your sleep efficiency improves by going to sleep closer to the time that you will fall asleep - which might seem counterintuitive as you will be allowing less time for sleep. This practice is actually a foundational principle to CBT-I. You wont be reducing your total sleep time or necessarily increasing it - but you will be improving your sleep efficiency which is where you start from in trying to improve overall amount and quality of sleep.
*This content will be available in video format over several sessions and available after July 2020 for free for patients of Alpenglow.
Optimize Your Diet
What we choose to put in our bodies has an impact on how we feel. This can include the food we eat as well as other substances such as drugs and alcohol. There has also been a blossoming of research on the brain-gut connection as well as the mood and cognitive impact from systemic inflammation.
Whether changes in the microbiome or inflammatory responses are central to the pathophysiology of at least some psychiatric disorders such as depression has yet to be definitively demonstrated, and these disorders likely remain multifactorial and impacted through stress, genes and other environmental factors. However, working with a provider who is current on research to decipher what lifestyle interventions make sense is important.
Despite all that is still being determined, there are some basic principles that remain important, as writer Michael Pollan aptly penned, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants".
Challenge 1: Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat daily by one serving a day for a week.
Challenge 2: Get your normal groceries and before going to the check out line, replace at least one item that was high in sugar and simple carbs with a fruit or vegetable.
If overuse or addiction to alcohol or drugs is something you battle with, there are many medically assisted treatments (MAT) that have been shown to help with reduction or sobriety.
Reclaim Your Body
re:membering to find wholeness
A growing amount of research is starting to understand how traumatic events are lodged in the body and how this might lead to becoming disconnected to our own bodies and the consequences of this. Somatic experiences such as tai chi and yoga where mindfulness is integrated into feeling and moving your own body may help one to feel more grounded in their own body, re-membering it and helping to make it whole with the mind. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk has done extensive writing on this.
Challenge: Simply sit in a chair in a safe and quiet space and gently move different parts of your body one by one and try and focus on the sensations of each part of your body, good or bad.