Now is the time of year when we all get introspective and decide to make resolutions for the coming year. Lose weight, be more productive at work, be a better mate — all of these resolutions can be accomplished by focusing on your mental health first. Not convinced? Here are a number of easy-to-change factors that can keep your brain healthy and your emotional well-being in balance in 2017 so you can achieve those other things.
Sleep is one of the most important things that we can do for our minds and bodies. Poor sleep habits can lead to deficits in nearly all brain functioning. James B. Maas, PhD, told the American Psychological Association about the benefits of sleep and rest for your brain: “During REM sleep, the brain busily replenishes neurotransmitters that organize neural networks essential for remembering, learning, performance and problem solving.” That means that regular, deep sleep can help us be sharper at work, better in our social activities, and more productive at home.
Even a nap provides a significant benefit to mental functioning, and can replace the effects of sleeplessness. In a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology, sleep deprived subjects were either allowed two 30-minute naps or made to stay awake. Measurements taken after the experiment showed that those subjects who took naps had lower levels of stress hormones than those who had no nap. Stress can not only cause depression, but it can also cause anxiety and cognitive lapses like poor concentration, confusion and bad decision-making. So if you can’t get eight hours of sack time, consider a half-hour snooze to boost your mental capacity. That’s a pretty easy 2017 resolution.
According to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, even small amounts of exercise — at least 10 minutes — can cause improvements in several mental and emotional factors. Moderate exercise, which amounts to 30 minutes of exercise, 2-3 times per week, improves body image, boosts mood, improves confidence and alertness, and reduces symptoms of depression. Exercise increases the brain’s production of serotonin and endorphins, both of which are responsible for producing happy, positive feelings. So if you’re feeling low, take a 20-minute walk around the block or take the stairs instead of the elevator.
The food we eat, or don’t eat, also has an effect on our mental performance. Good nutrition is a part of maintaining overall health, and that includes mental health. Carbohydrates increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates brain function, which improves mood and wards off depression. Proteins increase several brain chemicals that control mental sharpness. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in some nuts and oily fish, affect brain function and memory. Leafy greens and some other vegetables contribute folate — a B vitamin — which controls concentration and other mental activities. So nutrition does more than do a body good; it does your mind good as well. Make a 2017 resolution to incorporate more fresh, nourishing foods into your diet and pay attention to what it does for your emotional and mental acuity.
Some people may believe that prayer and mental health have nothing to do with each other. But prayer, meditation and faithfulness can have a significant impact on stress and worry levels, which ward off mental conditions like depression and confusion. Whether you pray to God or another higher power, believing in an entity outside yourself increases your sense of hope, which in turn has a positive effect on your emotions. A study at Baylor University revealed that people who prayed and had a loving relationship with God experienced fewer negative emotional experiences like general anxiety, social anxiety, obsession and compulsion.
Originally appeared on MadameNoire.com.