Mind Over Matter: Taking Control Of Your Mental Health With Quality Habits
That quote pretty much sums up the point of this episode. It’s a ‘feel good episode’. Literally!
The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your habits and if your mental health isn’t optimal, the most important thing you can do is to develop physical habits that create the chemicals that make you feel good - dopamine and the like.
Cognitive approaches, such as therapy help for sure, but the things that will move the needle most and get you feeling good about life, and about yourself, are pretty simple: Sunlight, breathing, hydration and movement.
Even if you don’t think you have mental health issues, make a habit of getting more of these in your life and everything will change for the better. That’s our promise to you...
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What is a habit?
Simply put, a habit is something you do without even thinking about it.
When you repeatedly do the same thing, the feel-good hormone dopamine is released in your body. You get a little hit of that every time you ‘perform’ that habit, which is why some people eat chocolate, or look at their phones, or whatever it might be.
But while those habits might feel good, they may not actually be good for you.
The issue of mental health
I (Angie) had mental health issues that came from being in the entertainment business in my 20s and getting just four hours’ sleep. Then as I moved from my 20s into my 30s and began taking on more responsibility as well as getting married, moving overseas and eventually having children, I noticed I was anxious, but I was ‘functional’.
I struggled with anxiety but I did whatever I needed to do to get through the day. It wasn’t enjoyable.
I had a similar journey with postnatal depression; I would suffer at home and on the inside but not let it show as much on the outside.
Depression is a sensitive subject. Many people might think of Angie’s functional depression as ‘good’, because it’s not an over-aroused or hyper-type of depression. We’ve noticed with a lot of our clients, when they think they’re experience is depression, they’re actually experiencing an under-arousal and with anxiety it is an over arousal.
A lot of people think there’s simply something wrong with them, but it’s generally all in the body. When it comes to understanding why a person might be feeling a certain way, hormones may be the missing piece.
If there's anything we've found in our research that's really surprised us is that most emotional and behavioural ‘disorders’ are often reflected in the hormonal system or in the body. Either there’s a hormonal imbalance, or the body just isn’t getting the right cascade of hormones at the right time.
When this happens, the body starts getting bogged down and experiences low or no energy. This is felt in the mind and at this point you may assume you have a mental problem or issue when really you just don't have a good set of quality habits.
Address the body first
The good news, as we’ve said already, is that if you can get your body back on track, your mind will follow.
For me (Angie), it was a relief to know I didn’t have to try to figure out what the mental problem was by looking into my past and what happened and how it might be affecting me now. It’s good to assess these sorts of things, but in my experience, it doesn’t get to the root of the cause until you start addressing the energy issues in the body.
If you only do cognitive work to get yourself back on track, you’ll likely end up feeling worse. You’ll be pushing shit uphill if your hormones are still out of whack while you're trying to deal with all the mental stuff.
So it’s important to consider whether your body is in order before you set out to untangle your mind. You can do it the other way ‘round, mind first and body second, but the effort required will be like you’re pushing a bulldozer as compared to pushing a little Matchbox car.
To encourage a shift from mental health to mental habits, we follow a framework. We have used this with many of our clients and it works wonders.
Step one - Circadian rhythm The first thing to do is ensure your circadian rhythm is in working order. Every cell in your body, including your brain, has little clocks and your brain has a master clock. It’s all run off the circadian rhythm, which runs in alignment with the rising and setting of the sun.
As the sun rises, it sends signals to your body through the sunlight to release all the hormones you need for energy production, like turning on your metabolism.
When the sun goes down, your hormones go into a series of regenerative processes, which cleans out the cells and makes room for new ones. This process happens on a 24-hour cycle in humans, which is the circadian rhythm.
If you’ve given birth, this might make a bit more sense to you. After you have a baby, your circadian rhythm has a tendency to go off-track because now you’re up all night tending to your crying baby. So postnatal depression makes more sense because you might feel like you’re being pulled down when your circadian rhythm is misaligned.
Step two - Ground yourselfThe next amazing thing you can do sounds simple, and it is. It’s getting out and grounding yourself, actually getting your feet in contact with the earth. All it takes is going for a walk outside your front door, finding the first patch of grass or earth you can and placing your feet on it.
I (Shane) used to think it was weird, until I learned the science behind it. Basically, there’s an energy exchange between your body and the earth that happens through the sweat glands in your feet and hands.
It’s in this cycling of these positive and negative discharges that inflammation starts to lower in the body. From our research, we’ve found that inflammation is linked to depression. That may not come as a surprise to you.
Step three - Form winning habits This next step relates to habits, which is what you’ll do if you follow steps one and two. In addition to these first two habits, we include things like water, movement and from these we begin to create what we call ‘quality habits’.
Whether you stick to these habits or routines in the morning or evening, eventually you’ll begin to enjoy them instead of sitting around stuffing your face full of chocolate or drinking alcohol or whatever it is that you do to get that feel-good hormone hit.
Stay true to nature
So what can we do to boost the health of our cells? In our experience, there are four things that can make a huge difference - sunlight, breathing, hydration and moving your body. Write that down somewhere that you can see it - Sunlight, breathing, hydration and movement.
They're not the only things you can concentrate on but they are the four fundamentals that will prove the most successful when it comes to depression and anxiety or even just fine tuning your mental health.
Incorporating these four things into your daily routine isn’t difficult. You can do all four with your morning walk. It doesn’t have to be barefoot, but just ensuring you get up with the sun, have glass of water, go out for a walk, breathe and ground yourself, will allow you to develop a healthy mental habit.
And you should start noticing the difference straight away. I (Angie) started noticing it when I started incorporating the breathing. I used it to manage my ‘mom central nervous system’ and it made a huge difference. When I was feeling over-aroused I would use my breath to relax, and when I was feeling depressed, I would use my breath to bring me back up.
Don’t forget hydration though, because it’s essential in being able to shift toxins and inflammation in the body.
Re-coding your brain. Manipulating time.
The main lesson we learned from our research was that you cannot afford to disconnect yourself from nature because if you do, you will lose your true nature. The quality of your habits equal your quality of life.
When we ourselves, and our clients, followed this framework, we saw an increase in dopamine, a balance in hormones, and a change in habits. When my (Angie) habits changed, so did my beliefs. In turn, my behaviours changed and then all of a sudden my whole world just kind of shifted.
There’s so much more to this than meets the eye though. The feel-good hormone dopamine actually has an effect on how you perceive time and how you code it in your brain. So if you have a lot of dopamine, you feel like you've got a lot of time, whereas if you have less dopamine, you feel like your time is limited.
If you’re in business, and even if you’re not for that matter, and you feel like you need more time, check in on your dopamine levels. Ask yourself, are you getting a quality hit of dopamine from morning sunlight?
So whatever your situation, take time for yourself in the mornings. Focus on your own health and wellbeing and you’ll find everything else falls into place.
One thing we want to be clear on though is that this is a blueprint for those of you who have ever felt a tinge of depression or anxiety; it's not a prescription for a cure. Mental health issues are not something that can be “fixed” by simply balancing your hormones, but from our experience, it is a great place to start. It allows you to control things naturally and get back to place of enjoyment.