May is mental health month, stress higher than ever

 In Opinion

Mental health – Definition: n. A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
May is mental health month and that got me thinking about how different this year is to most. We are in a pandemic and many people’s stress levels are higher than ever – working parents with kids at home, single people suffering from loneliness, elderly people that are feeling isolated, and the list goes on.  The most common “ailment” that I see in practice is stress, but this year there is a heavier weight to it as we are all feeling the societal impact of the current state of the world. 
Our stress hormone is called cortisol and it becomes elevated during stressful times. It activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and turns off the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and relaxation). This results in ailments such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, mental fatigue, inability to concentrate, memory impairment, gastrointestinal disturbances, hormone imbalances, etc., etc., etc! When your body isn’t able to reside in the R&R state, you don’t recharge your battery, digest efficiently or replenish the organ systems.
Here are five things you can do to improve your mental health and restore your parasympathetic nervous system:
1) Deep breathing – taking long deep inhales and long deep exhales (5-6 seconds each) can let your system know that it is not in danger and that it is safe to do what you are doing (working at your desk, sitting in traffic, rushing around, worry about the state of the world, etc). 
2) Cut the stimulants – decrease caffeine and sugar to keep the adrenal glands functioning properly. These two substances jolt the adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol to keep your body running. You want to preserve the adrenal glands, not shock them on a daily basis!
3) Gratitude Journal – it might sounds cheesy, but writing down the things that you are grateful for on a daily basis can change the way the brain interprets stimuli. The more repetition the better, the brain will soon adopt it as fact. Start with external things and then move into gratitudes about yourself and what you can do for others.
4) Play Mind Games 😉 – keeping the mind active and stimulated creates stronger neurological signalling and firing. Card games, scrabble, sudokus, number games, Lumosity, crosswords – anything that makes you solve, reflect and focus on one singular thing is amazing for the health of the brain and general well-being.
5) Talk to somebody – no one should have to go through hard times alone (especially right now). There is no shame in seeking professional help – mental well-being is the most important thing that one can possess!
In Ontario, here are some great resources: www.mentalhealthhelpline.ca, www.warmline.ca, and www.torontopsychotherapygroup.com/find-a-therapist.

Kate Hunter is a naturopathic doctor who is practising at Body ‘n Balance on weekends. Visit www.katehunternd.com.

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