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May is for Mental Health

10 steps to happiness!

When you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, maybe it’s time to understand what health really is. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Get it? Two-thirds of “health” is all about your emotional well-being. 

“There are two complementary strategies for improving the human condition. One is to relieve what is negative in life; the other is to strengthen what is positive,” according to Martin Seligman, the ultimate “happiness guru” and one of the best professors I had at the University of Pennsylvania.

May is Mental Health Month, an annual observance Mental Health America founded over 60 years ago to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for all. The organization developed a “Live Your Life Well” campaign during this month to encourage Americans to learn methods and use tools to handle life’s challenges and flourish.

"Just as Americans have learned there are things they can do to reduce their risk of heart disease and other illnesses, Mental Health America wants to help people learn what they can do both to protect their mental health in tough times and also to improve their mental well-being throughout their lives," explained Dr. David Shern, CEO and President of Mental Health America.

One definition of mental health states the following: "emotional, behavioral, and social maturity or normality; the absence of a mental or behavioral disorder; a state of psychological well-being in which one has achieved a satisfactory integration of one's instinctual drives acceptable to both oneself and one's social milieu; an appropriate balance of love, work, and leisure pursuits".

According to the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) mental disorders are "common in the USA and internationally." Approximately 58 million Americans suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. However, the main burden of illness is concentrated in about 1 in 17 people who suffer from a serious mental illness. Approximately half of all people who suffer from a mental disorder probably suffer from another mental disorder at the same time, experts say.

So the likelihood is great that you, or someone you know, has an anxiety disorder (the most common form of emotional upset), a mood disorder, schizophrenia, or some common variant of these, including bipolar disorder, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder or serious depression. 

Pleasure + engagement + meaning = happiness, according to Professor Seligman. While this formula won’t turn a grumpy person into a happy-go-lucky, “frolicky” person, it is possible to make someone a little happier, as much as 10-15%, if you really work at it.

I’ve come to understand that a person’s chronic happiness level is governed by 3 major factors: genetics, circumstances and the practices and activities they engage in. Research indicates that we are able to control about 40% of our happiness by the activities we choose. However, 50% of our happiness is already tied to a genetically determined “set point,” while another 10% of our happiness is tied to happiness-relevant circumstances that are largely beyond our control. Still, it is possible to be happier,  to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances, according to Seligman.

Here are the ten tools Mental Health America suggests you use to enhance your emotional well-being. The overlap with the “Pleasure + engagement + meaning = happiness” formula is clear.

1.     Connect with others…people who feel connected are happier and healthier

2.     Stay positive…change your thinking and you change your feelings

3.     Get physically active…exercise definitely leads to a healthier and happier you

4.     Help others…serve soup at a shelter instead of sipping your own martini

5.     Get enough sleep…being tired hurts your health and well-being

6.     Create joy and satisfaction…have a laugh, find a hobby, chill

7.     Eat well…the right foods fuel your mind, boost your mood and fight disease

8.     Take care of your spirit…prayer, meditation or just connecting deep inside of yourself enriches your life

9.     Deal better with hard times…write it out, talk it out, change your thinking, and get support

10. Get professional help if you need it…don’t hesitate to seek professional help including therapy and if necessary, medication

Dr. Lee S. Berk, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunology researcher at Loma Linda University's Schools of Allied Health (SAHP) and Medicine, and director of the molecular research lab at SAHP, Loma Linda, CA, explains that "We are finally starting to realize that our everyday behaviors and emotions are modulating our bodies in many ways." Along with Dr. Stanley Tan, these researchers have shown that laughter has a positive effect on modulating components of the immune system, including increased production of antibodies and activation of the body's protective cells, including T-cells and especially Natural Killer cells' killing activity of tumor cells. Their studies have shown that repetitious "mirthful laughter," which they call Laughercise©, causes the body to respond in a way similar to moderate physical exercise. Laughercise© enhances your mood, decreases stress hormones, enhances immune activity, lowers bad cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, and raises good cholesterol (HDL).

No doubt that the best pharmacy is within your own system. Make this month, May, the month you finally get over being sick and tired, the month you pay serious attention to your emotional well-being, your mental health, because as someone once said, “If your inner energy is misdirected, so will your whole life be.”



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About This Blog

Edit ModulePsychologist Michael Mantell tackles San Diego’s psychological well-being, from reducing stress and anxiety to creating closer bonds with family to the importance of physical fitness.

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