You know that exercising and eating right are key to staying happy and healthy. Yet, many other factors can affect your mental health as well. These seemingly insignificant habits and occurrences can slip under your radar and trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions.
Keep your eye out for these six unexpected factors so you can defend your mind against them and cultivate a happier, more peaceful existence.
1. Chronic Stress
Most people associate poor mental health with life-altering events like car accidents, the death of a loved one, and other traumatic experiences. However, research suggests that it’s everyday stress that negatively impacts your mind.
Chronic stress increases myelin production, which can literally shrink your brain and cause imbalances in its white and gray matter. Eventually, the cumulative impact will take its toll on your mood and memory centers, making you more likely to develop a mental illness.
2. The Seasons
It’s normal to have days when you feel down, but if your mood changes with the weather, you might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Most of those with SAD experience symptoms during the winter months. However, if you have spring or summer SAD, you may notice changes in appetite, sleeping patterns, and mood during the warmer months.
While researchers haven’t determined a specific cause, low melatonin and serotonin levels may prompt the onset of SAD. A decrease in sunlight may also disrupt your internal clock and vitamin D levels. In this case, light therapy lamps may provide some relief.
3. Sleeping Problems
Speaking of internal clocks, yours is very sensitive. Even a slight disruption can alter your wake-sleep patterns and cause issues like insomnia, hypersomnia, and other sleeping problems. Poor sleep can make it difficult to cope with even minor stressors and exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. In turn, these conditions will make sleep even more unlikely, prompting a vicious cycle of poor mental and physical health.
Therefore, it’s essential that you develop a solid sleep routine and get the recommended seven to nine hours of deep, restful sleep each night. Wake up at the same time every day and maintain a consistent bedtime. More often than not, your body and brain will find balance again.
4. Oral Hygiene
It might seem far-fetched, but oral health plays a huge role in maintaining good mental health. Recently, researchers have discovered that significant dental issues can trigger or worsen certain mental illnesses. When symptoms flare up, you’ll be less likely to prioritize brushing and flossing.
Once again, there’s a cyclical relationship here, with each one affecting the other. Luckily, one good choice can put you on the path to healing. Develop good dental health practices and watch your symptoms subside. Likewise, taking care of your mental health can prompt good hygiene.
5. Physical Pain
It’s obvious that the body and brain are inextricably connected. When the body is sick, the brain is more likely to be so — and vice versa. So it makes sense that physical pain affects mental health.
Roughly 32 million Americans report having chronic pain, and 25% to more than half of them are also depressed. Meanwhile, 65% of those suffering from depression also report experiencing physical pain. That’s because pain and depression share some of the same nerve pathways and neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. Thus, taking a whole-life approach is the best way to develop an effective treatment plan.
6. Substance Use
Some people turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with symptoms of anxiety and depression. While these substances can improve your mood in the short term, there is a potential for addiction and long-term health consequences.
Because these drugs numb emotions, they can leave you feeling even worse when the high finally wears off. Therefore, it’s best to feel your emotions as they arise and find healthier, more productive ways to cope. Doing so will help you heal rather than hide from mental and emotional pain.
Taking Care of Yourself
If you’ve noticed these factors affecting your mental health, take the initiative and do what you must to self-correct. Protect your physical health first by minimizing chronic stress, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and maintaining proper hygiene and sleep routines.
Practicing self-care to address your physical needs will inevitably improve your mental state. However, due to its cyclical nature, you may be unable to pull yourself out of a downward spiral once you’re in it. In this case, it’s best to seek support from family and friends. Visit your doctor for additional treatment and to start on the path toward healing. In time, both your brain and body will recover so you can refocus on taking care of yourself and preventing mental snags in the future.