The Six Must-Haves for a Happy Mind and Self-Care

Here are some essential self-care "rules" to keep your mind happy and healthy. These rules, which we can refer to as the "big six," highlight the key areas to improve your mental and physical health.

by George Neacappo, Public Health Officer

1. Sleep and Your Sleep Routine

Sleep is vital for mental health. Most people need between 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night, but it varies from person to person. Just like keeping fit, having a steady sleep routine is super important. That doesn’t mean you must obsess over getting a perfect night’s sleep every night. It’s more about recognizing that sleep is a daily investment and being consistent is what matters. Straying from your usual sleep schedule by over an hour can make you groggy and mess with your mood. So, aim for a consistent sleep and wake time, give or take an hour, for the best energy, mood, and focus throughout the day.

2. Light and Sunlight

Getting enough sun or bright light early in and throughout the day can boost your mood, focus, alertness, and sleep. That mainly works through biological and hormonal pathways and is key for regulating your body clock. Opening overhead light sources when waking up can help if you can’t get sunlight. You don’t need to stare directly at the sun. The overall brightness of light, especially sunlight, is good for your mood and mental health, but don’t look at light so bright it hurts.

3. Movement & Exercise

Moving your body, or exercise, is the third must-have for mental health. It’s no secret that regular exercise has loads of health benefits, but it’s also vital for keeping your mind in good shape. Regular cardio and resistance training should be part of your exercise routine. Try to include Zone 2 cardio exercises (like brisk walking) for 180 to 220 minutes per week, high-intensity exercise once a week, and daily cardio or resistance training. And remember to take rest days to let your body recover.

4. Nutrition

Food plays a massive role in mental health. It’s essential to eat enough, but not too much. Focus on quality calories from foods that are non-processed or minimally processed. For instance, an orange is unprocessed, while a glass of orange juice undergoes processing. Overeating can lead to what’s called energy toxicity, which can mess with your mental health. Food provides the building blocks for cell repair, tissue production, and making neurotransmitters, which come from the amino acids in food. So, the connection between food and mental health is a big deal.

5. Social Connection

Having a social life and maintaining healthy relationships are also crucial for mental health. Hanging out with others, whether it’s family, friends, or community members, can give you emotional support, reduce feelings of loneliness, and lift your mood. Social connections can also give you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which are indispensable for mental well-being.

6. Stress Control

Handling stress effectively can make a huge difference to your mental health. Everyone experiences stress to some degree, but how we deal with it is what counts. That could involve techniques like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or other stress-busting activities. Regularly practicing stress control can help keep your mood balanced and prevent mental health issues from popping up.

In conclusion, the six must-haves for a happy mind and self-care—sleep, light, movement, nutrition, social connection, and stress control—offer a complete approach to promoting mental health and well-being. By focusing on these areas, we can build a strong base for psychological and physical health, leading to a better overall quality of life.

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