Struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, or the like? Would you like to have good mental health? There’s more you can do to experience that than you might think.
Imagine your brain as a supercomputer filled with microprocessors, memory chips, keyboard, display screen, software programs, various connectors, battery, power source, and more. Your brain contains somewhere around 100 billion neurons connected by perhaps 100 trillion synapses. Each neuron functions similar to a microprocessor, taking in data and sending out signals both electrically and chemically. And all these neurons are integrated in a mind-boggling way.
If your brain is like a supercomputer, your mind is like the work products of that computer: files, pictures, videos, databases, documents, spreadsheets, music, etc. The incoming data is processed through your brain and out comes a creative product in the form of thoughts, emotions, memories, decisions, values, meaning, and more.
It should be obvious that if you disrupt the power supply, install a faulty microprocessor, or run a corrupted software program you won’t get the results you want from your computer. As a high school student I learned computer programming using the old 80-column keypunch cards. (I’m really dating myself now!) One wrong or torn hole and the computer would spit out the entire program. We were taught GIGO – “garbage in, garbage out.”
Your mind can’t produce the output of creativity, joy, insight, love, or any other good thing without good input. The nutrients and oxygen in your bloodstream, the substances produced by all your other body organs, the nerve signals that enter your brain from throughout your body, and the outside input you allow through your senses all affect the thoughts and emotions your mind puts out. And so do the software programs you run in your brain – the mental habits and thoughts you choose and nurture.
Practicing Good Mental Health
Good mental health habits aren’t a guarantee of perfect happiness any more than eating right guarantees that you’ll live to be 100. Life happens. But you’ll absolutely be healthier, happier, and more successful in every area of your life if you take care of your thinking.
Your brain receives thousands, perhaps millions, of messages each day, many of them negative. When you believe or buy into those negative messages, negative thoughts develop. When you park on negative thoughts they create negative feelings. And all that nervous and chemical energy coming from a brain that’s feeling down travel to the rest of your body. Aches and pains, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal upset, headaches, feeling downright miserable – is it any wonder that your body can get all kinds of fallout from that internal stress? And much of that internal stress is made worse by how you think about it.
You don’t have to be a victim to all these negative messages and the negative thoughts they bring. You can improve your mental health greatly by doing these things:
- Care for your physical body. The food and drink you take into your body are the raw materials your brain run on in producing thoughts and feelings. The amount of physical exercise you engage in, and the amount of rest you get regularly, are also important. If you’re tired, dehydrated, or on a sugar high or crash, your mind will fall into negative patterns much more easily. With high-quality food, adequate rest, and plenty of oxygen your brain will naturally be more positive, resilient, and creative.
- Control the input your mind receives. Most of us don’t discriminate thoughtfully enough about the quality of nourishment we feed our mind. The media messages you allow into your mind and the people you choose to spend time with make a difference. Do you really need to watch all that news in the evening if it makes you anxious? Are the movies, TV programs, or music you consume, the internet places you visit, or the books you read providing uplifting input? Do the people you spend time with bring you down or encourage you? You have a choice to consume mental junk food or to give your mind nourishment that supports peace, clarity, and joy.
- Choose Your Thoughts. Put up a mental stop sign. When you’re frustrated, tired, worried, sad, stressed, or otherwise feeling out of sorts, press pause. Stop everything for a moment. Just doing that may be enough to disrupt the negative cycle going on in your mind. Visualize that mental stop sign. Say STOP out loud if you need to. Use that moment to remind yourself that you can choose how to respond to any feeling or circumstance. And then do just that. Make a conscious choice about what to do or think next. You have a choice.
- Reprogram the Computer. Your mind has the ability to do something truly amazing; it can reprogram itself. It won’t happen in a day, and you may need help to do so. But you can develop new ways of thinking, feeling, and responding that can forever change your future. Your feelings are important, but you don’t have to allow them to rule you. Over time choosing different thoughts will result in different feelings. Doing so may not absolutely guarantee better health, but it’s almost certain to have a positive impact.
Our minds are vulnerable just as our bodies can be. Taking care of your mind in these ways will lead to much better mental health, and most probably better wellbeing in many ways.
Your Turn: How’s your mental health? Have you found any of these steps helpful in feeling happier? Leave a comment below.
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