Minding the Body, Serving the Mood: Practicing Good Mental Hygiene

Ancient Eastern thought did not see the dualism of mind and body. The concept of “mind” was a useful way of thinking about thoughts as distinct from other actions of the body, but ultimately, thoughts are simply another process contained within the body. When we are sick, we often have a bad mood that goes along with it. When we sustain a trauma, we often have health complications. The yin, and the yang each contain the other.

We run up against a real problem with this in Western thought when we experience inner suffering because we tend to think we can “outthink” that pain. Depression is a very real consequence of living in a complicated world where people must navigate outside forces and maintain and inner balance. When that balance is tipped in a negative direction, there are cascades of implications for the body. It causes a major but sometimes subtle disruption to our biorhythms, effecting sleep, eating, exercise, concentration, energy levels, and even contributing or connected to chronic pain, accidents and migraines.

However, going back to that connection between the mind and the body, if we attend to those necessary rhythms of the body, we can reduce the chances of the onset of mood disorders like depression.

In fact, the “body-mind” connection is getting more attention from researchers. Because of its wide array of benefits, yoga is being implemented as a complementary therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Veterans because it helps to quell the reoccurring anxiety associated with traumatic events. Fledgling research on “body-mind” show that “power” poses like warrior or goddess pose can help inspire confidence. Even sitting up straight improves our sense of self, according to one study1.

The paradox of course is that when our mood dips, eating well and exercising are the last things we feel like doing. And when the body gets sick, it can be very hard to practice mental hygiene like mediating or breathing exercises.

So keeping all this in mind, we can look at some little ways to practice overall health that deliver small but important injections to our outlook and similarly, attend to the body as a way of boosting and maintaining that happy mood.

Do what you can do.

It’s important to keep in mind that we come from a competitive culture, where individual achievement is paramount. It’s built into our cultural DNA that we strive for perfection, and sometimes, that desire can talk us out of taking smaller more reasonable steps.

Same time is more important than the duration.

If you have three minutes everyday to attend to your mindfulness practice, it’s still worth doing.According to the yogis, it’s not the length of time you practice your meditation, it’s the fact that you do it at the same time everyday. Like eating and sleeping, you just want to build that daily attention into your biorhythms.

Find friends.

When it comes to maintaining a routine, whether it’s meditation or exercise, don’t attempt to do it in isolation. You risk putting too much pressure on yourself and hitting a wall. Find a workout buddy or a meditation class that you can attend to give yourself momentum.

Talk to your Doctor about the mental/emotional aspect of your health.

When we go in for a check up, we seldom dig into personal stuff, but if stress from a recent event is affecting your regular patterns, that’s also a health issue. It’s worth saying to your doctor, “I’m going through a divorce and I’m not sleeping well,” he or she can suggest ways to manage that transition, even referring you to a good therapist.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Combined with mindfulness practice, CBT is a very effective form of therapy that helps us process difficult emotions and devise strategies that elevate our mood.

Avoiding triggers.

When that fine balance is disturbed but an external event, we lose a job, there is a death in the family, or we have a conflict with a friend, these are events we have little to no control over. However, we do have control over triggers that can exacerbate our mental state. Avoiding alcohol, sugar or highly processed foods can prevent mood from worsening.

Adding in the Good.

Try eating fruits high in antioxidants like blueberries and pomegranates, nuts like walnuts and almonds, whole grains and dark leafy greens. These foods can naturally boost our energy and out outlook. Again, the object is not perfection, but incrementally adding in healthy choices that will buffer us from the unpredictability and inevitable suffering that life sometimes hands us as human beings. By doing the maintenance, we shore ourselves up as best we can so that even in very dark times, we have a rhythm of self-care in place.

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