Five Small ACTs to Strengthen your Mental Health

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Promoting mental health involves a combination of strategies supporting psychological, emotional and social well-being. While mental health is often discussed in relation to mental illness, it is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.” [1]

In honor of Mental Health Month (May), try incorporating these five small ACTs into your daily routine to build strength from the inside out:

  1. Practice self-care.
    Whether you’re navigating life’s daily stressors or are working through ongoing challenges, self-care is an important mental health tool. Journal writing is a self-care technique that can help you relieve stress, find meaning during adversity, and process thoughts and emotions in a healthy manner. To build this habit, seek a quiet place and aim to write for a few minutes at the same time each day (set a reminder on your smart phone if you need a nudge). Pick a format that’s most accessible and comfortable for you, such as a notebook or computer. If you’re ready to go but feel a bit of writer’s block coming on, try starting with phrases like “I am most grateful for…” or “I believe in myself because…” to get you going. Our partners at the Real Warriors Campaign have more tips on journaling and other self-care tools, such as practicing mindfulness.
  1. Fuel with nature’s best.
    When it comes to optimizing physical or mental health, the benefits of drinking water are a “no-brainer.” Moderate dehydration can elevate cortisol levels (one of the body’s fight or flight hormones) leading to feelings of anxiousness and stress. Just a two percent decrease in weight due to fluid loss has been shown to impair both mental and physical performance, including memory function [2]. The Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System recommends drinking at least 0.5 to one fluid ounce of water per pound of body weight daily to promote physical and mental performance. Be sure to pair your H2O with nutrient-packed fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Research shows that people with diets high in whole foods have a lower risk of depression than those who consume mostly processed food [3]. For more tips on fueling with your physical and mental health in mind, click here.
  1. Maintain a physical fitness regimen that you enjoy.
    What can you do to improve your mood, get better sleep, increase endurance, navigate stress, boost energy and stay mission (and PFA) ready? Exercise. Physical activity has been proven to do all of the above, in addition to potentially reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boosting cognitive function [4]. Round up a few shipmates and go for a run around the flight-deck, try a group fitness class on your installation, sweat it out on the yoga mat or get fit with interval training. The objective is to find a physical activity you enjoy that strengthens your body and mind! Aim for a minimum of two hours and thirty minutes of moderate physical activity per week, strength training all major muscle groups. Short on time or space? Try this workout.
  1. Have a plan to navigate stress—and put it in ACTion.
    Challenges are inevitable, and sometimes determining where you can turn for help can be a challenge in itself. A Stress Navigation Plan can help you identify your physical, emotional and social reactions to stress; note helpful coping strategies; and determine who and where your resources are before you need them. Your plan is a reminder that no matter the situation, you don’t have to navigate it alone. Personalize your Stress Navigation Plan today and keep it in a safe, easily accessible place. Key resources such as the Military Crisis Line, Military OneSource and Navy Chaplain Care are already populated in the plan for your convenience.
  2. Practice kindness, 1 Small ACT at a time.
    Performing a kind act stimulates “emotional warmth,” which promotes release of oxytocin in the brain [5]. Whether you volunteer to be an on-call designated driver for your shipmates, tell a loved one how much they mean to you, or simply hold the door for someone, you’re contributing to your own feelings of connectedness, purpose and belonging. These are important aspects of social and emotional well-being that build mental health. 1 Small ACT not only makes a difference to others—it makes a difference to you.

While you’re working these small ACTs into your daily routine, don’t forget to find the funny in life. Laughter can help thwart the release of stress hormones, trigger production of feel-good hormones and promote relaxation. Just don’t take it as far as Jonesy (pictured above, courtesy Julie Negron)!

For more small ACTs to strengthen your mental health this month and throughout the year, follow Operational Stress Control on Facebook and Twitter at @NavStress.

 References:

[1] Mental Health Basics. (2013). Retrieved April 2, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics.htm

[2] Department of the Navy, Morale, Welfare and Recreation. (n.d.). Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System. Retrieved April 3, 2016, from http://www.navyfitness.org/_uploads/docs/NOFFS_Nutrition.pdf

[3] Akbaraly, T. N., Brunner, E. J., Ferrie, J. E., Marmot, M. G., Kivimaki, M., & Singh-Manoux, A. (2009). Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 195(5), 408-413. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.108.058925

[4] Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106.

[5] Acts of Kindness can make you Happier. Retrieved March 01, 2016 from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/new/articles/2013/01/24/acts-of-kindness-can-make-you-happier

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