In a brand new year or otherwise, mental health is a serious topic. With an emotional health component, we have a blockbuster issue that should be at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to self-care, especially as depression is associated with declining health in aging adults. So what steps can we take to help ensure things that happen in 2023 don’t overwhelm us? This is especially important for those of us making the return to work after the holidays, striving to maintain caregiving responsibilities for aging parents or grandparents, or perhaps helping to raise grandchildren, and managing a variety of life’s stressors and challenges.
Understanding the Link Between Mental Health and Physical Health
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and as we become seniors. The demands of daily living pull us in a hundred directions, with the potential to separate us from what centers us. Studies show that good mental health is related to good physical health, as some disease states can be impacted by what we think and how we feel as a result. As one example, cardiovascular disease can lead to depression and vice versa.
Paying careful attention and then taking a step back from what’s going on is the first order of business in maintaining balance. When we do that, our perspective can change, allowing us to implement measures designed to reduce stress and improve the quality of our own lives.
The following New Year’s resolutions may help make our lives and consequently the lives of those around us better, as when we feel more balanced and in control of ourselves, we are better equipped to nurture, care, and relate.
Resolutions for Better Self-Care
1) Determine Your Purpose
It may be a challenge in light of too many obligations and too little time, but determining what’s really meaningful to you in your life and moving toward achieving it can make all the difference in handling negative forces. People who define their own purpose, and who work at actively taking steps (even baby steps) in that direction, are often better able to cope knowing they are moving toward fulfilling what they believe they were meant to do. Studies show this is particularly beneficial for older adults, as a senior’s ability to live purposefully has the power to determine both the quality and quantity of their remaining years.
2) Do Something Unexpected for Others
Do things for other people — even something very small. That’s all it takes. Often we overextend in this area, juggling the needs of children, aging parents, jobs, and more. Doing this can result in neglecting ourselves in the process, feeling we have little choice. But the unexpected gift to you in paying a quick compliment to the harried grocery store clerk or dropping off some fresh fruit to an elderly neighbor, both makes their day and lifts your spirits more than you can imagine.
3) Eat a Balanced Diet and Healthy Snacks
A balanced diet, and frequent small meals or healthy snacks to keep blood sugar constant, makes a significant difference in mood and immune health. What you eat nourishes your whole body, including your brain. Carbohydrates in moderate amounts increase serotonin, a brain chemical that has a calming effect on your mood. Protein-rich foods increase norepinephrine, dopamine, and tyrosine, which help keep you alert. And vegetables and fruits are loaded with nutrients that feed every cell of your body, including those that affect mood-regulating brain chemicals.
Don’t forget about foods with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in fish, nuts, and flaxseed) because research shows these can improve mood and restore structural integrity of the brain cells necessary for cognitive functioning.
4) Sleep to Repair, Restore and Recharge Mind and Body
Sleep restores both your mind and body. President Kennedy attributed cat naps to maintaining his level of productivity. Your immune system repairs itself, and your brain rests and recharges while you sleep. Without enough good sleep, your system doesn’t function as well as it should. A large body of research has shown that sleep deprivation also has a significant effect on mood. Try to go to bed at a regular time each day, and practice good habits to get better sleep. These include shutting down screens at least an hour before bed, using your bed only for sleep or relaxing activities, limiting caffeinated drinks to the morning hours, and monitoring alcohol intake which interferes with the sleep cycle.
5) Keep Moving to Lessen Depression and Boost Health
Better yet, combine movement with something you love to do. Exercise releases stress, anxiety, and tension, also relieving depression. If you like working out with weights, great. The gym awaits! However if you don’t like the gym but love nature walks and hiking, make them a big part of your life as you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Enlist a friend or join a group, which can serve as the best and most fun kind of motivation, connecting you with like-minded people.
6) Connect With Others
Poet John Donne famously said, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….” In short, while self-reliance is a good thing, we are not here to live quite so self-sufficiently as not to enjoy the companionship of others. Studies show that people who engage socially live longer, strengthened by close relationships with family and/or friends. So even if you think don’t have time, make time. Make it a practice to linger over coffee with a friend at the nearby café, go for a run together, or bargain shopping or antiquing, join a reading group, a campaign — wherever your interests lie. There is someone out there who shares them, or if you’re open to it will introduce you to new activities you can do together.
7) Be Positive, But Not to a Fault
There’s been a lot of rhetoric for a long time about being positive — or at least acting that way even if we don’t quite feel it. But many experts believe that feigning a positive outlook, if done at the expense of not expressing fear, pain, sadness, anger, or doubt about a situation, can have detrimental effects on the mind and body. According to the Washington Post, if we push away thoughts and emotions, they will come back magnified. Acknowledging our thoughts and feelings, and expressing them responsibly, is a key factor in good emotional health.
8) Practice a Little Gratitude
It’s not a cliché. Being thankful for even one small thing each day, writing it down and keeping it in front of us or top of mind, can have a powerful impact throughout the day. Did your car start the first time? Did you find that favorite sweater that had been missing for months? These events sound simple, but in fact they have perhaps given you less stress and a little joy today.
Some experts recommend keeping a gratitude journal, writing down five or even ten things at a time, but writing down even one item can serve to remind us how very fortunate we are. In fact, in the bigger picture, we are most fortunate to have been born in an era when more is possible for us to achieve, personally and professionally, than at any other time in history.
Resolve to Strive for Progress, Not Perfection
Remember, in making and executing your New Year’s resolutions for optimal mental and emotional health, it’s best to strive for progress, not perfection. Start slow and small and be gentle with yourself in the pursuit of any goals you set. You want to be healthy, but you have your whole life ahead of you to work on it — one more item for the gratitude list! Here’s to a happy and healthy 2023!
“8 Healthy Aging Resolutions for Older Adults,” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor.