Dr. Darlene Powell Garlington, DHCC clinical psychologist on February 15, 2013
Total Force Fitness model
Positive mental health is a state of well-being in which we realize our abilities, cope with life’s normal stresses, and work regularly and productively. Familiarity with stress management skills and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help you reduce depression, prevent a progression to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and may also reduce the chances of diminished work performance, obesity and injury.
Focusing on mental health involves an awareness of all the domains of Total Force Fitness: spiritual, psychological, behavioral, social, physical, nutritional, medical and environmental. This means approaching your health as an integrated system, rather than one or more separate parts. Further, it’s important to know that positive mental health isn’t just the absence of mental disorders. It also includes:
- Being comfortable with yourself
- Feeling good about yourself
- Being able to meet the demands of life
- Being able to express emotion in healthy ways
- Being able to cope with the stresses of life
So, how do we maintain positive mental health? One way is to understand the connections between your physical health, emotional health and psychological health. Research shows that our attitude affects our brain, body and emotions. So, a positive attitude should be part of our everyday wellness practice. Easier said than done, right? Here are a few examples of how you can make a big difference in maintaining positive mental health.
1. Help-Seeking Behavior
Strong family relationships are vital to overall health. There will inevitably be times when stress, adversity or trauma negatively affects you and during these difficult times, you should seek support and guidance from family, friends or others inside or outside of your support circle. Sharing your challenges and problems with someone else can lead to greater insight. You may think, “How can a therapist understand my spouse and our relationship?” Actually, an outside person can often offer a valuable perspective that can only be gained through objectivity.
Both the Deployment Health Clinical Center and Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury websites provide helpful information and resources on post-deployment adjustment, PTSD, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues for service members and families.
2. Physical Health
Maintaining physical health means employing preventive practices including good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and regular medical and dental check-ups. Each is important on its own, but positive improvements are even more powerful when they’re combined. Like an attentive gardener, you must know the correct ways to feed and maintain your body so that it can thrive.
A body that receives the right nutrition and exercise can sustain the mind through times of extreme stress. Adopt healthy eating habits such as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and adding more whole grains into your diet. Exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits too; it has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. So, try to incorporate some formal physical activity (walking, aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle strengthening activities) for 30-60 minutes three times a week to help improve your overall health.
3. Spiritual Health
As spiritual human beings, we’re all on our own life journeys to discover and actualize our purpose, potential and passion (the three Ps of successful living). This applies to our family life, community and work environment.
- Purpose: Find what gives your life meaning and purpose
- Potential: Actualize your gifts, talents and abilities to the fullest
- Passion: Experience excitement and reward in what you do and have a sense of fulfillment
Spiritual health has to do with our spirituality — beliefs and values that give us that sense of purpose. Nurturing your spirit along with your mind and body brings about a balance that encourages healthy lifestyle choices, which reduces overall stress.
The beginning of the year is a great time to commit to changes in your life. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a few extra dead lifts in the gym or miles on the treadmill are going to be all the change you need. Effective change that will lead to optimal physical and mental health must be comprehensive. Be well!
Darlene Powell Garlington, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in providing services to military members. She is a contractor with Deployment Health Clinical Center, a Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury center.