In my last article, I described my frustration with not being able to help my clients enough, especially those who had already been doing all the right things and were still suffering with depression and chronic medical conditions. I described how I stopped taking new clients in order to dive into spending my time doing serious reviews of all the published research that could point me in a new clinical direction. What I learned was that there are certain behaviors that commonly improve state of mind and even health—those behaviors are not well known. The following is a list of the most evidence-based of those behaviors.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet and get sufficient exercise and sleep. It can be helpful to begin by getting a consultation with an integrative medicine physician, or any doctor or nurse practitioner in mind-body medicine.
- Practice mindfulness meditation to cultivate the skill of letting go of negative self-talk and other unhealthy thought patterns.
- Schedule at least a few minutes of face-to-face contact with a friend every single day. Studies consistently show a positive correlation between the number and quality of social connections and health and happiness.
- Every day engage in activity that adds meaning and purpose to your life—something that makes you excited to get up in the morning and feel good about yourself. This can be related to work, recreation, family, or doing a good deed.
- Learn to automatically gravitate to behaviors that add the greatest aliveness to your life. What turns you on? What excites you? For most people, hanging out with good friends adds the greatest aliveness to life. However, for some people, being completely alone in nature makes them feel most alive. Whatever it is for you, find a way to engage in that behavior at least for a few minutes every day.
- Look for opportunities to help other people. This can take the form of volunteer work, or even something as simple as holding open a door or carrying a package for someone. One of the biggest surprises in my literature reviews was the discovery that altruism directly correlates with health and wellbeing. I did my own informal observational case studies and saw that the happiest people were those who served others without wanting anything in return.
- Consciously look for things for which to feel grateful. In case you are skeptical that this could have anything to do with health or wellbeing, just try a simple experiment. Every day, set aside a few minutes to write a few lines about a person or situation for which you feel gratitude. Notice that whenever you do this, you feel better.
- Cultivate curiosity and learn new things. This can add a wonderful new sense of aliveness to your every day.
- Never do anything you don’t want to do: recognize that you can consciously choose everything you do rather than begrudgingly do things you tell yourself you have to do. Every time we tell ourselves that we “have to” do something, we diminish our aliveness. Even the scheduling of a colonoscopy can be used as an opportunity to practice the power of choice. Learn to recognize that you literally choose everything you do every day. Simple recognition of that power of choice can make an enormous difference in health and wellbeing.
- Learn to treat yourself with the same compassion and forgiveness that you would extend to a small child.
- Schedule a favorite activity into every day. This could be something as small as spending a few minutes working in your garden or enjoying any hobby.
- Cultivate taking charge of your life and fighting for what you value.
In essence, we all need good medical care and we all need good nutrition, exercise, and sleep. However, if you adopt the practices of the healthiest, happiest people, you can become the master of your life. This will result in reduced emotional distress, and skills to view problems as challenges rather than as defeats. The reduced emotional distress will improve physiological functioning and will increase the odds of experiencing improved health outcomes.
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