“The mind is a powerful force. It can enslave us or empower us. It can plunge us into the depths of misery or take us to the heights of ecstasy. Learn to use the power wisely.” -David Cuschieri
I've said it before and I will surely say it again, and again, and again. Health is so complex. The way we feel and the way we experience life are truly a synthesis of every component of holistic health--mind, body, and soul (to oversimplify it). And each of these areas, as well as the countless other factors influencing our wellbeing, are connected. During my time as a student in the NIWH Whole Health Education Program, I learned so much about this inter-connected science (whole health) that is attempting to understand how everything in the body is connected with every aspect of our individual lives. And I'm convinced, now more than ever before, of just how significant the mind piece is in the holistic health puzzle. To make things more complex, there are an endless number factors that influence our minds. So how do we attempt to nurture and nourish our mind? Are there any practical steps or practices we can embrace to move towards experiencing the benefits of a happy, healthy mind?
I believe there are.
Certainly I am no psychologist or neurologist. I am just one person with my own experiences and opinions on the topic. However, after spending hundreds of hours studying this topic and after years of fairly intensive personal mind work, I do feel qualified to at least pass on some of what I've discovered. As with all things, filter it through your own unique experience and understanding
1. Master Meditation & Mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness, although trendy buzzwords right now, are timeless practices that can be traced back to the earliest civilizations. Mindfulness is simply becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and the impact of our actions. And meditation is tangibly marking out a period of time to contemplate, reflect and possibly even speak, pray and/or chant to help solidify the truths being considered. I am 100% certain that without awareness, reflection, and contemplation we cannot fully experience a happy, healthy mind. That being said, these practices can look very different from person to person, and are often shaped by the individual's worldview and spirituality. However, there is common ground to be found. If you're interested in learning more about mindfulness and becoming the "CEO of Your Own Mind," check out this article from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201304/become-the-ceo-your-own-brain-in-six-easy-steps
2. Mend Your Heart
We cannot talk about the mind without talking about the heart. They are intimately connected. Science has just begun to understand the symbiotic relationship between the emotional heart and the mind. And what they are discovering is that what is good for the heart is good for the mind and vice versa. Understanding the unique relationship between our heart and brain, and taking steps to protect both of these vital organs throughout life, is critical for lifelong health. The reason this conversation is so important is because the quality of the emotional signals our heart sends to our brain determines the kind of chemicals our brain releases into our bodies. Those chemicals impact every single body system, and can do so positively or negatively. Past hurts, brokenness and negative emotions must be acknowledged and addressed through heart work. Some opportunities to move towards mending our hearts include counseling and/or therapy with a licensed professional, support groups, retreats, and journaling, to name a few. Personally, I was able to do a substantial amount of heart work 5 years ago through something called Ultimate Journey. However, there are a number of opportunities available to do similar heart mending. Heart work is an ongoing journey of reflecting on areas in our lives that we may be thinking and acting in unhealthy ways due to flawed thinking or brokenness and then addressing those areas.
3. Mix & Mingle with People Who Give You Opportunities to Grow
Community. Connection. Accountability. We were designed for it. And although being vulnerable and allowing other people to speak into our lives can be scary, and, at times, painful, it truly is critical for our health and wellbeing. A happy, healthy mind depends on it. We need to surround ourselves with people who will challenge us, expand our thinking--provide us opportunities to grow. University of Oxford psychologist Robin Dunbar and his colleagues reviewed the mobile call logs of 27,000 European people in 2007. They concluded that if you use the frequency of calls between people as a measure of the strength of their relationship, then people have (on average) 4.1 intimate relationships. The team's findings supported an idea Dunbar had initially proposed in the early 1990s suggesting that humans' social networks are layered, starting with five intimate relationships (friends or family members), and moving outward to less intimate circles of about 15, 50, and 150. What about you? Who are your 5? If you haven't prioritized connection or are currently experiencing feelings of isolation, take a baby step to change that. Stop in at Simply Nourished and say hi to one of our Team members. We'd love to get to know you.
4. Make Time for Things You Love
If you happened to see my social media posts from Saturday, you may have been wondering what Schnitzel and Cafe Mir have to do with a Happy, Healthy Mind. It's simple really. A happy, healthy mind is nurtured by taking time to enjoy the things we love. For me, deliciously prepared and beautifully presented local food (that someone else cooked :)) makes the list. Good friends and natural wine also make the list. So last April I decided to make time for them. Every last Friday of the month since then I've booked out my calendar for "Ladies' Night" and have enjoyed every minute. And, filling the top of my love list, are Jesus and my family. I'm admittedly not a religious person--perhaps a recovering Evangelical is the best way to describe me. However, I happen to be completely enamored with Jesus (for a variety of reasons) so I make time to learn and practice the way of Jesus. I also make time for my family. I don't like being busier than I have to be, so rather than filling our evenings with activities, we choose to enjoy family meals and time with one another pretty much every night of the week, including friends and neighbors in that time as well. I've never once regretted making time for any of these people.
6. Maximize Your Intake of Mind-Supporting Foods
The topic of this post is not nutrition, so I'm not going to go into an in-depth nutrition conversation. However, I will say that what we eat and drink impacts our mind. If you've ever chosen to binge on processed junk food (if it's junk why do we eat it anyway?) for an extended period of time, you've likely experienced the brain fog and mood instability that often comes as a direct result. I, certainly, am guilty of this. I will say, though, that I rarely if ever give in to this temptation anymore. The consequence is just not worth it to me anymore. Especially when there are so many better options for food and drink that I truly enjoy. That being said, there are some mind-supporting foods that we can prioritize in our daily diet to help support and nourish our mind. As much recent research is revealing, there is a huge correlation between our gut health and the health of our mind (mentally and emotionally). Personally, I have found the best approach to a gut-healthy diet to be the GAPS protocol, or a similar variation of it. The GAPS diet was derived from the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) to naturally treat chronic inflammatory conditions in the digestive tract as a result of a damaged gut lining. To learn more, click here.
7. Manage Media Time
In my opinion, media use is truly the most influential drug in our culture today. In fact, recent studies now validate the reality of Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). IAD can cause tremors, shivers, nausea and anxiety in some addicts and many professionals now consider IAD equal to substance abuse, including it among other pathological behaviors such as gambling and eating disorders. If we aren't extremely attentive and careful, we are all likely to get sucked in. According to an article from Psychology Today, written by Bernard J. Luskin, Ed.D., LMFT, "Some people use broadcast and Internet media as a mental and emotional retreat and refuge. Addicts are connected to their screens; their minds trapped for hours to the exclusion of the world around them. Addicts neglect family, work, studies, social relationships and themselves." Although media certainly has positive uses and can be very impactful for social good, the time we spend behind screens must be carefully managed in order to cultivate a happy, healthy mind. For me, that meant getting rid of my personal Facebook page, which I did in December around Christmastime. We also choose not to have wifi in our home and do not have devices readily accessible for our children. Each person has to make his or her own decisions based on needs, but regardless, we all benefit from managing our media time well.
8. Modify Medication & Supplementation Protocols Cautiously
Mental health, specifically medications used to manage mental health conditions, have historically been controversial. Because we (as US Americans) are part of a culture that is often over-medicated, it is easy (at least for me) to condemn pharmaceuticals. However, mental health is an incredibly complex and fragile area of health. Implementing, changing and removing any medications should only be done with the help of an experienced practitioner--this is especially true of medications used to treat mental health conditions. Many supplements, too, must be used cautiously and implemented with care and wisdom. Functional Medicine practitioners are a great place to start if you are needing some guidance in this area as functional medicine takes a holistic and often integrated approach to patient care. We are very excited about welcoming Dr. Kayla Schumacher to our BE WELLness Collaborative Partners Network as she is a great resource (specifically for women) to ask questions about how to take steps towards improving health---mind, body & soul health. Dr. Kayla works directly with a Functional Medicine M.D. who has over 20 years of experience. You can participate in a complimentary "Discovery Call" by clicking the consultation button on her website, found here.
And, I'd like to add one last thought— it's important to know your limits. When you've had enough winter, for instance. When you just can't really imagine having to endure another snow storm. When you just need some sunshine. Listen to that still small voice that says "go South."
So, just a heads up, Simply Nourished will be closed Monday, 3/11 and Tuesday 3/12 during Spring Break Week as our entire staff will be off those two days. I will be nurturing a happy, healthy mind getting out of Iowa for a week in March. Marissa and Judy will be taking care of business Thursday through Saturday, and I'll be back to re-open the store Wednesday, 3/13 so Marissa can also enjoy a Spring Break. Thanks for understanding as we attempt to practice what we "preach."
Assuming there are no blizzards this coming week, Simply Nourished and Better Body Movement will be open regular hours--bringing wellness within reach and helping you to move well and live well.