Last week I listened to a podcast by a psychiatrist who went back to school to get his PhD in nutrition. He said that nutrition affects mental health so greatly that he didn’t feel like he could properly treat his patients unless he helped them get their nutrition right.
A very lovely young girl called me last week, wanting to discuss her extreme emotional ups and downs. Early in the conversation, she informed me of a few of her lifestyle choices: She takes Adderall to get going in the morning, takes Xanax to go to sleep at night, drives through fast-food restaurants at least once a day, as well as drinks lots of alcohol on weekends. I told her I could help her with her thinking and subsequent emotions, but she would also have to address her physical lifestyle choices if she wanted to seriously dial down her mood swings.
You are one system, and your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical self are all intertwined. You cannot expect to have radiant mental health without addressing your physical health as well as the health of your relationships (see below).
In Happy School, Where Women Learn the Secrets to Overcome Discouragement and Worry, I primarily discuss your thinking and how that radically changes your emotions. But to maximize your positive emotions, you also have to address your physical health. Therefore, let’s walk through some habits that affect your physical health.
Number one, of course, is the food you put in your body, i.e., your nutrition. It has been proved overwhelmingly that excess sugar and refined carbs are bad for your health. Sugar and carbs raise inflammation in your body, disrupt your hormones, and pretty much upset every system in your body. If you continue to eat the Standard American Diet (SAD), you will most likely suffer negative consequences in every area. I know it costs a lot of time and money to cook healthy, but it is crucial to your family’s well-being.
Some of my favorite health experts are Mark Hyman from Ultra Wellness (he has videos on YouTube), anything Joseph Mercola writes (at Mercola.com), Amy Myers (at AmyMyersMD.com), and Josh Axe (at DrAxe.com). Most of those people sell products, but they offer huge amounts of information for free. THIS ARTICLE on Josh Axe’s website shows the title as “eating to support your supplements.” But if you scroll down, you’ll basically find a fabulous primer on what to eat. It’s a very wonderful list, especially if you are not a regular how-to-be-healthy reader.
Number two is movement. For years, I would go to the gym for 30 minutes, four to five times a week, thinking that I was checking off the “exercise box” of health. It was not until I bought a step counter that I realized how sedentary I was. I’m a writer, so outside of my little housekeeping duties and my piddly trips to the gym, I am stationed at a computer for most of the day. Experts say anything 5000 steps and below is sedentary. Maybe you’ve even heard that sitting is the new smoking. According to the new studies, taking 8000 steps a day seems to be the magic number where you can increase your longevity by merely having daily movement. (HERE is a chart to convert activities like swimming and weight training to steps.)
As I’ve learned more about health, I’ve gained a better understanding of why this is true. Exercise increases your heart rate and accelerates your breathing which helps your cells detox. Your health is really only as good as the health of each of your cells. So movement is necessary for your cells to operate at their optimal capacity. Of course, much more is involved, but this basic fact was motivational for me.
So…start walking. Start moving. You don’t have to do high intensity interval training (HIIT) to call it exercise. Now that’s great if you want to. I still lift weights. But all you need to do is move throughout the day. Maybe you need to take a short morning walk and a short afternoon walk. You can buy a step counter on Amazon for around $20. It’s powerful feedback.
Number three is hydration. I’m a little bit of a rebel and I don’t do things until I know the reason. So if you just tell me to drink eight glasses of water a day, I think, “Ha, I’d rather drink coffee.” But then I learned one of the reasons to drink water: Cells have to be hydrated so that they can expel toxins (think of a wrinkly, dried up cell, trying to push toxins out). Coffee and alcoholic beverages dehydrate you. (By the way, a very healthy purchase is the Berkey water filter. It’s a big silver bin that you put on your counter and fill up with tap water. It filters out all the harmful substances in tap water and allows your family to have constant access to healthy water. It’s pricey so maybe put it on the someday list.)
Number four, stop harmful bad habits. Lesson 4 in Happy School is called The Urgent Necessity of Stopping Bad Habits (And How to Do It). Did you know there’s an art and a method to how you can overcome and stop bad habits? This subject has been documented and diagrammed. You are not a victim to your genetic profile. In the free supplement teachings to Happy School (called Happy School Advanced, starting September 8, 2020), I’m going to discuss this misunderstood topic of stopping harmful bad habits.
You already know that some bad habits are extremely harmful to your health. Smoking, for example, is a terrible habit and has been discussed for decades. But what is not discussed as often are the harmful effects of excess alcohol. Alcohol is attractively packaged poison. I know the Bible talks about the beauty of wine but many experts insist that the alcohol in the Greco-Roman days was diluted and served with mixers. It was considered gauche to drink alcohol without mixers in high societies. There are different opinions on this, but some scholars say it was as much as one to two times less strong. Anyhow, if you drink 5 ounces a day or less, according to current standards, you are safe from harmful effects. (Just beware that 5 ounces is a little more than half a cup; it’s not a full red Solo cup.)
If you have a problem with cigarettes, alcohol, overspending, excessive screen time, hoarding, or Trash Food, you can find an escape hatch. As I said, Chapter 4 in Happy School begins the discussion and Happy School Advanced continues it (this fall). (FYI, I’ve written a book just for people who have trouble with excess sugar and Trash Food, called Skinny School. It teaches you to get your mind in the right place so you can ditch Trash Food. To supplement the book, there are also free lessons to read on my website, JulieNGordon.com, called Skinny School Advanced.)
Number five is good sleep. Your body actually does its major repair work while you’re sleeping. I understand that you don’t want to be a slug and oversleep, but you’ve got to find the sweet spot between seven and nine hours so your body can repair. (Alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle so, again, be very careful about your alcohol intake.)
Now let’s move to two other issues that surprisingly affect your health: The first subject is the quality of your relationships. Are you surprised? Researchers are now finding out that the quality of your relationships is huge to your health. Did you know that negative emotions, such as resentment and bitterness, create havoc in your body? It is so important to learn how to have good relationships! (Relationships are the topic of lesson 9 in Happy School. In addition, Wife School, Wife School Advanced, and Husband School address the importance of healthy relationships.) More often than not, you cannot heal your health until you deal with your deep resentments.
Another surprising entity that affects your health is prayer and meditation. One of my favorite health gurus, Dr. Josh Axe, puts prayer and meditation in his list of things to do to increase immunity. Of course that’s not the primary motivation to spend time in prayer, but it doesn’t hurt to know it’s good for you.
You hear constantly that stress negatively impacts your health. God made us to possess a freedom in our spirit if we are living and thinking a certain way and constant negative stress and resentment are not on the list. Your body is listening to your thoughts, and all of this affects you at a cellular level! If you don’t believe me, listen to Solomon: “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
This was a flyby, as I’m just giving you some basics. To have radiant, bountiful mental (or physical) health, you can’t ignore that you’re one entity and every part of you is connected to every other part.
My mission and purpose is to help you find joy in the Lord, have deep relationships with significant others, conquer your bad habits, and develop radiant emotional health.
Sign up to receive 12 weeks of free Happy School Advanced lessons to supplement the book, Happy School. (Group discussion questions are included so text a few friends to join you.)