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      Josephine OgunsolaJosephine Ogunsola

      Your mental health influences how you think, feel, and behave in daily life. It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships. Strong mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.

      People who are mentally healthy have:
      A sense of contentment.
      A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
      The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
      A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
      The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change.
      A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
      The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
      Self-confidence and high self-esteem.

      How to boost your mental health

      There are practices you can adopt to elevate your mood, become more resilient, and enjoy life more. But just as it requires effort to build and maintain physical health, so it is with mental health. We have to work harder these days to ensure strong mental health, simply because there are so many ways that life takes a toll on our emotional well-being.
      Make social connection a priority—especially face-to-face
      No matter how much time you devote to improving your mental and emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and function at your best. Humans are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections to others. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship—even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.

      Why is face-to-face connection so important?
      Phone calls and social networks have their place, but nothing can beat the stress-busting, mood-boosting power of quality face-to-face time with other people.

      The key is to interact with someone who is a “good listener”—someone you can regularly talk to in person, who will listen to you without their own conceptions of how you should think or feel. A good listener will listen to the feelings behind your words, and won’t interrupt, judge, or criticize you.

      Reaching out is not a sign of weakness and it won’t make you a burden to others. Most people are flattered if you trust them enough to confide in them. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, there are good ways to build new friendships and improve your support network. In the meantime, there is still a great benefit to interacting face-to-face with acquaintances or people you encounter during the day, such as neighbors, people in the checkout line or on the bus, or the person serving you your morning coffee. Make eye contact and exchange a smile, a friendly greeting, or small talk.

      Staying active is as good for the brain as it is for the body
      The mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that lift your mood and provide added energy. Regular exercise or activity can have a major impact on mental and emotional health problems, relieve stress, improve memory, and help you to sleep better.

      Learn how to keep your stress levels in check
      Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you brings things back into balance.

      Talk to a friendly face. Face-to-face social interaction with someone who cares about you is the most effective way to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Interacting with another person can quickly put the brakes on damaging stress responses like “fight-or-flight.” It also releases stress-busting hormones, so you’ll feel better even if you’re unable to alter the stressful situation itself.

      Appeal to your senses. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee or a favorite scent? Or maybe squeezing a stress ball works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so start experimenting now to find what works best for you. Once you discover how your nervous system responds to sensory input, you’ll be able to quickly calm yourself no matter where or when stress hits.

      Make leisure time a priority. Partake in your favorite activities for no reason other than that they make you feel good. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.

      Make time for contemplation and appreciation. Think about the things you’re grateful for. Mediate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.

      Take up a relaxation practice. While sensory input can relieve stress in the moment, relaxation techniques can help reduce your overall levels of stress—although they’re likely to take more time to learn effectively. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can put the brakes on stress and bring your mind and body back into a state of balance.
      Eat a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health
      Unless you’ve tried to change your diet in the past, you may not be aware how much of what you eat—and don’t eat—affects the way you think and feel. An unhealthy diet can take a toll on your brain and mood, disrupt your sleep, sap your energy, and weaken your immune system. Conversely, switching to a wholesome diet, low in sugar and rich in healthy fats, can give you more energy, improve your sleep and mood, and help you to look and feel your best.

      People respond slightly differently to certain foods, depending on genetics and other health factors, so experiment with how the food you include in—or cut from—your diet changes the way you feel. The best place to start is by cutting out the “bad fats” that can damage your mood and outlook, and replace them with “good fats” that support brain-health.

      Foods that adversely affect mood
      Caffeine.
      Alcohol.
      Trans fats or anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil.
      Foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones.
      Sugary snacks.
      Refined carbs (such as white rice or white flour).
      Fried food.
      Foods that boost mood
      Fatty fish rich in Omega-3s such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna.
      Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts.
      Avocados.
      Flaxseed.
      Beans.
      Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Brussel’s sprouts.
      Fresh fruit such as blueberries.

      Don’t skimp on sleep—it matters more than you think
      If you lead a busy life, cutting back on sleep may seem like a smart move. But when it comes to your mental health, getting enough sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Skipping even a few hours here and there can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. And over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on your health and outlook.

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