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Caring for Your Physical Health Is Only Half of a Healthy Lifestyle

Many people go to at least some effort to look out for their health – their physical health. They watch their diet, limiting daily intake of sugar and salt. They go to the gym and exercise, drink plenty of water, and take multivitamins. Some see their primary care physician every year for a physical exam. Most will visit a doctor if they’re ill (85 percent of American adults had contact with a healthcare professional in the past year).

But what about behavioral health? Are we caring for our minds as meticulously as we care for our bodies?

Much of what we do to take care of our physical health has benefits for our mental health as well. But there are some things we can do which will directly benefit our minds and behavioral well-being. Moreover, taking care of your behavioral health can improve your physical health as well, too. Here are some tips on how to maintain good “behavioral health hygiene:”

  • Value yourself. Be kind to yourself and avoid being overly critical. Treat yourself with respect and remember to make time for the things you enjoy.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. The benefits of building a group of supportive friends and family are twofold. First, happiness is contagious and time spent around people with an optimistic attitude makes it easier to feel more optimistic yourself. And second, this group is your natural support system whenever you need to ask for help.
  • Be there for someone else. Whether you choose to volunteer at a local organization or go out of your way to support your friends and family, helping others can be uplifting – plus, it helps grow your own network of resiliency.
  • Learn ways to handle stress. Long-term increases in stress hormones can lead to increased risk of anxiety, depression, and other health problems, so finding your own best ways to handle stress is very important. There’s really no limit to what could help you handle stress – physical exercise, practicing yoga, deep-breathing exercises, journaling, playing a musical instrument, taking a walk, or spending time with a pet are just a few examples.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is another way you could use to cope with stress, but it’s important enough to list on its own. Quiet time to reflect – through meditation, prayer, or mindfulness exercises such as coloring and drawing – can have a positive impact on your perspective.
  • Set realistic goals. Decide what it is you’d like to achieve – in your personal life, at work, or at school – and write it down somewhere. It’s okay to aim high, but respect your limits and remember to think of your goal in practical steps. Each step you accomplish towards reaching your goal is something to celebrate.
  • Break up the monotony of routines. Find a routine that works for you that includes a healthy diet, exercise, and regular sleep patterns – but a change of pace now and again is good for you. Take a walk in a different park, go for a swim instead of doing your daily run, find a new spot to hang with friends, try a new food or restaurant – give yourself the space to be flexible in your routines.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs. Try staying away from drugs and alcohol. This is not always easy, so find strategies that work for you. Using drugs or alcohol to feel better is harmful to you.
  • Take a behavioral health screen. Online screenings for mental health disorders, substance use issues, disordered eating, or problem gambling are a quick and anonymous way to check-in on your behavioral health. Early identification and intervention for behavioral health disorders can lead to better outcomes and improved quality of life.