March 04, 2019
As a natural medicine specialist and therapist, I often find myself working with clients who share a common dilemma: they are truly hungry for change. Despite this desire for change, however, most people struggle to understand how they can begin to create a healthier, happier life for themselves.
Although this answer frustrates many, the key to having a healthier, happier life lies in going back to the basics. These often overlooked tips can be implemented quickly and safely, and when implemented consistently can have long-lasting effects on every area of your life.
Time and time again this continues to be one of the biggest barriers my clients face in living a healthy, happy life. We take time for the dog, our spouse, the kids, our job, our friends and parents…the list goes on and on. But when do you take time for you? It’s almost frightening how quickly the days can turn into months with little to no self-care being practiced, and often times we don’t realize our self-care has been neglected until it’s too late.
I encourage you to start small, with only a five minute commitment to yourself each day. The reason behind this is simple: 5 minutes is a realistic goal, and if we set realistic goals we are more likely to stick to them. If you find you need more, up this time in 5 minute increments until you’ve found your sweet spot.
I recently worked with a lovely young man who was struggling in nearly every facet of life. He was constantly tired, his marriage was disintegrating because of his lack of sexual desire, and had eventually turned to drugs in his mid-30’s despite never having used them before in order to cope with basic life stressors. He was diagnosed with severe depression and wound up in my office. Week after week he continued to present even worse than the last, and therapy simply wasn’t working. Around this time I referred him for a basic check-up where he had his blood panels evaluated. It turns out he was struggling with dangerously low-testosterone levels prompted by an underlying medical condition. He wasn’t depressed at all! He was simply struggling with the signs and symptoms of low testosterone (fatigue, poor appetite, low libido, lack of motivation, crying spells, and somatic complaints). We were able to work as a team to get his medical issues treated, and today he is “back to normal”, with no symptoms of depression or substance use.
Had this young man not sought medical attention, he likely would have spent years in therapy with no results, because his issues were more medical than psychological in nature. His situation is not unique, as countless other diseases can mimic the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders. Further, when one truly is struggling with a mental health disorder, underlying medical issues can complicate and delay treatment. While therapy and other mental health care practices can save lives, it’s important to have a well-rounded treatment plan that includes being medically evaluated for a check-up at least once a year. This helps you to rule out and address more serious problems.
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: Exercise is good for you! It’s such a simple concept yet so few people succeed in meeting the basic fitness requirements. While physical fitness can do wonders for the body, it can also help to drastically change your mental state. In fact, it has been proven that exercise can reduce anxiety and depression, increase self-esteem, and prevent tendencies to isolate.
The great news is you don’t need much to see these effects. Getting 30 minutes just 3 times a week is a great starting point. Try to fit time in for fitness in a fun way that makes sense for you and your family, and don’t forget to be creative. No gym membership or equipment is required to take a walk, head to the park, or yoga in the living room. Extra tip: exercising in nature can increase many of the positive benefits!
You may have heard it said that “Laughter is the best medicine”, and I’m here to remind you that it’s TRUE! Laughter and humor can aid us in handling our challenging emotions, help us to manage stress levels, connect us with others, and alleviate symptoms of illness.
Some of my favorite ways to get my laugh on are watching funny videos online, seeing a comedy show, having fun with my family, or just being plain silly. If you’re feeling brave you could even attend a laughter yoga class, which many tout as their cure for serious illnesses. Whatever works for you, try to fit in some laughter every day. Before you know it you will be conditioned to laugh in life, and can carry this joyful spirit even in the face of life’s challenges.
Giving or receiving a hug might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of taking care of yourself, yet human contact is an essential part of survival. In fact babies, even when provided with food, water, and shelter, can develop serious health problems and potentially face death when denied human contact.
Renowned therapist Virginia Satir recommends getting 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance, and 12 hugs a day during times when we need healing or growth. Of course, as a friendly reminder, a hug should always be consensual and with a safe person.
Written By: Jordan Bunting, AMFT