A Mental Health Master Plan - Topic of the Month – May 2021May 06, 2021 03:07PM ● By Editor
A Mental Health Master Plan
We’re used to thinking about physical health as having separate, but interrelated, parts: physical activity, fitness, sleep, nutrition, hygiene, risk and disease prevention, etc. We can take stock of our physical health, identify the areas that needs support, and then make changes, knowing that the benefits will ripple out to impact the whole of our body.
Our mental health is multi-faceted too. Just like our physical health, we can examine its parts to make changes that will benefit the whole. Perhaps the most logical place to start this exploration is by thinking about the first place that physical and mental health overlap - the brain.
What’s the complex object in the known universe? The human brain! While the scope of what our brains are able to do is astounding, and the ways that they do those things is perplexing, caring for these 3-pound miracles is pretty straightforward.
Protect your head. Even without a diagnosis of a concussion, “getting your bell rung” can have long term impacts. Brain injuries, and recovery from them, can be as complex as the brain itself. For instance, an injury to one part of the head can cause damage on the opposite side, or even throughout the whole brain.
Protect your mouth. There are about 700 different species of bacteria that live in your mouth, and roughly 2 dozen of those can cause harm other parts of your body. Chronic gum disease or oral infections allows those harmful bacteria to escape into your bloodstream through the vessels in your gums. They then can travel throughout your body, damaging other organs, including your brain.
Protect your hearing. Hearing loss leads to the loss of sensory input, which causes the “hearing” section of the brain to shrink, and changing the brain’s structure. Hearing loss can create confusion and lead to mental exhaustion. That can zap a person’s energy for remembering, thinking, doing things, and interacting with other people.
Feed your brain well. Our brains are only about 2% of our body weight, but they use about 20% of the calories we consume. It’s critical that we keep them fueled with high-quality energy! Diets that emphasize vegetables, berries, whole grains, fish, nuts, unsaturated fats, and plant-based proteins, protect both our hearts and our brains.
Amp up the mental stimulation. When was the last time you put yourself in a situation that required you to learn? How long has it been since you’ve seen, done, tasted, heard, or tried something new? When we introduce novel experiences into our lives, we stimulate new connections between brain cells, and may even help our brains to grow additional nerve cells.
Don’t just sit there—move something! Regular physical activity increases the amount of oxygen-rich blood that gets to the brain, supports the development of new neurons, and increases their connectivity. This leads to brains that work more efficiently and can adapt better to change. Exercise can also help improve blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, all of which impact the health of your brain. High blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind”) damage blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood that can reach tissues and organs. The health of every part of your body depends on healthy blood flow, and this absolutely includes your brain!
Avoid all forms of tobacco and minimize alcohol use. Tobacco use is damaging to brain health. It increases the risk of stroke, dementia, and cancer. Alcohol hampers the brain’s communication pathways and impacts it’s ability to process information. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of some cancers and lead to permanent brain damage.
Read the rest of the newsletter to learn how thoughts differ from emotions, what Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy is, and how the factors that make the fabric of our lives impacts our mental health. Visit www.sawtoothmountainclinic.org to access this issue – then take a deep dive and explore the links to all the reference articles! While you’re there, why not subscribe to the Topic of the Month newsletter? That way you’ll never miss an issue.