Breathe a deep breath and slowly exhale. The holiday season has ended; the new year has arrived. For many, the rush from Thanksgiving to Christmas with pressures of family, friends, parties, and presents results in feeling empty and emotionally spent. The start of the new year is the perfect time to refocus on our emotional and physical health. Focusing on your health does not need to be overwhelming. Start by incorporating a few simple changes to yield enormous benefits!
According to the CDC, the average adult requires 7-8 hours of sleep per night, an adolescent needs 10 hours, and the school-age child may require up to 12 per night.
Outside of nighttime sleep, it is important to make time for recreation. This should be something that brings meaning or joy, it may be a hobby, a sport, or social club. According to a study at the University of Utah, recreational activities result in reduced stress, improved mood, and overall reduction in depression and anxiety.
Human beings crave routine and consistency. Lack of routine results in higher stress levels. Regular times for waking, eating, and activity provides a grounding effect for our responsibilities. According to a health initiative supported by the Australian Government: “Everyone needs a reason to get up in the morning, be it a job or walking the dog. That’s what gets you going, and the rest follows.” Your best investment as we begin this year is a planner. Many options are available, from an electronic version on your phone, a desk calendar that serves as a convenient visual prompt, or a book-style planner to organize your responsibilities and activities in a convenient location.
Several studies involving gratitude demonstrated that it results in an increased feeling of wellbeing. For many, this may be a gratitude journal, where you can write something you are thankful for daily. Routine prayer has also demonstrated improvements in mental health. Meditation may also provide an avenue to reflect and focus on what truly matters in your life. While gratitude journaling helps to highlight the blessings and positive outcomes in our lives, it can also be helpful in processing difficult emotions or challenges. Sometimes feelings that are difficult to articulate to others or even process mentally become clearer as they are written down in the process of journaling.
Nutrition plays a vital role in mental health. A study published in 2022 in the Frontier of Nutrition highlighted the importance of diet and lifestyle as it relates to our emotional wellbeing. While sedentary lifestyle and obesity were clear risk factors for depression, appropriate and healthy nutrition also plays a key factor in mood regulation. Excessive sugar and alcohol intake has been associated with depressed mood and lower sense of wellbeing. Fast food is highly inflammatory and has been linked to poor mental health outcomes. Several key vitamins and nutrients are important in regulating mood and supporting emotional wellbeing. Magnesium is a key mineral involved in many cellular processes and has a calming effect on the nervous system. An amino acid called L-theanine may reduce stress, improve sleep, and lessen anxiety. Vitamin D is also essential in energy and immune metabolism and its deficiency is associated with impaired mental health. Nutritional supplements such as glutathione improve cellular detoxification which can improve stress response and focus.
There is growing research that identifies certain genetic alterations that carry a higher risk of mental health disorders. One involves the enzyme Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR). This important enzyme is involved in the breakdown and recycling of amino acids in our body. While MTHFR deficiency has long been known to result in birth defects and coronary artery disease, it has also been associated with several neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and ADHD. Patients with this deficiency may need special replacement of vitamins B12 and folate. The methylated, or active forms, of these vitamins can be immediately utilized by the body. Genetic screening technology has advanced to the point that testing for genetic abnormalities such as MTHFR deficiency can be done by a simple at-home cheek swab that is sent to a reference laboratory. Such testing may help identify increased risk for impaired mental health which allows for appropriate treatment or supplementation to avoid disease.
As we begin this new year, a few simple steps can improve mental health and pay huge dividends in your personal life, work, and relationships. Make a fresh start for your mental health and wellbeing. Talk to your physician today about steps you can take on your road to health!
Kendall Wagner, M.D. is a regular healthcare contributor to Do South Magazine
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