How healthy are you?

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Mental health is perhaps THE most misunderstood and destructively neglected aspect of our well-being.

When people say “are you healthy?”, the first things that usually come to mind for most are nutrition and exercise. But even before that, people often just think of how they look physically to other people. That is not a complete sign of true vitality and health.

They say that the value you place on something can be largely determined by how much time, effort and money you are willing to spend on it. Sadly, it is blatantly clear how much Western society values outward appearances, as seen from ridiculous overspending on “nutrition” (often freak diets that do more harm to your metabolism than good) and exercise. I think it’s one of the saddest things of our time that this happens but so few are prepared to spend time, money or effort on mental health. If someone says they want to lose weight or they want to start running or eat more healthily, people think they are sassy and fabulous, that they care for their bodies and may even be convinced to join in with the regime. However, if someone says “I started therapy”, which may be likened to getting a personal trainer, many think there is something “wrong” with that person. Rather than being excited for them and encouraging them, I think many people run, some go “uh oh, red flag, stay away”, some would admire them and very few would care enough to ask more and be courageous enough to walk alongside that person. But we can’t expect all people to join us on that journey – people can only give what they are capable of giving. If someone says to me that they started therapy, I immediately am all ears and have a sense of respect for the person for making a positive decision for themselves, as it shows that they want to grow. There are many reasons for going into therapy, just as there are many reasons for going to gym – some go to lose weight, others to build muscle, others to train for a big event, others to get specific exercises to rehabilitate an injury. It baffles my mind that the world fears the obvious parallels to mental health.

Ironically, and to the horror of many, here’s the secret to weightloss (provided you don’t have a particular condition that affects normal system functioning): Eat proportionally less but better and exercise more. It’s an input versus output game. It IS that simple. No one promised it would be easy, and people who make it more complicated are lying to themselves. The most interesting part of it all, is that you need to get your mind right first and if you have a problem with eating, it is one of the most basic of human needs, and sorting out our relationship with food is a mental health issue not a body issue. If we get it right in our minds, our bodies follow suit. Many people eat to exercise some amount of control they feel they lack elsewhere, or can be “feeding” a “hunger” that they feel is unmet in another area of life. There are many reasons why people eat, and many why people starve themselves. I say it again – it is a mental battle more than a physical one.

Back to mental health. Here’s to all those who are courageous enough to face themselves and love themselves enough to prioritise their mental health above all else. You can exercise every day and be incredibly aware of your nutritional intake, but if you think obsessively negative thoughts and beat yourself up inside, you literally CANNOT be healthy and function optimally. For those who are efficiency orientated: To not focus on our mental health is incredibly inefficient, because if we don’t watch what we think, our lives can spin out of control rather quickly and we cannot run sustainably in our best gear. As a parallel: Not watching what we think and allowing negative, obsessive thoughts is like living on a diet of predominantly Niknaks, Coke and winegums. You would shorten your life, put on weight and be very unhealthy if you ate like that, and your friends would worry. One would feel sick after some time, and would hopefully then change their habits. However, we can’t always see from the outside what someone’s thinking has done to them. And we can’t always have the awareness to see for ourselves that our thinking has as tangible effects on our body as eating and exercise does.

I see absolutely no downside to having someone alongside us who we pay to prioritise our mental health, even more than we may be capable of doing at times. Establishing a safe relationship with a trusted professional is the training ground where we can experiment and learn how to, with healthy boundaries, be more fully ourselves in the presence of others so that we can all bring our unique selves and talents to our communities to enhance our lives. Ideally, the relationships around us provide the mirrors angled at the sides of us we need to see and learn from but can’t see alone – but things are not always ideal, and that is ok.

Mental health is even more important than physical health and nutrition. When will the world catch on to how important this is. I feel for myself that I regularly need to remind myself of this, simply because of all the messages that bombard us to the contrary.

Next time someone you care about seems to repeatedly be saying or thinking certain things, reach out to them if you can or suggest they reach out to someone else if you can’t handle it. Whatever you do – don’t leave your friends hanging. And that is the most sobering, tragic pun I have ever made.

If your thoughts are healthy, you will naturally make more healthy choices elsewhere in your life. So yes, watch what you eat, but don’t start there. Watch what you think. It may  save your life.

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