The four pillars of mental health

Have you ever had to apologize for what you said when you were hungry?   If so, you're not alone. "Hangry" a portmanteau of "hungry" and "angry" has entered into our language as the feeling of irritation or ill-temper due to lack of food.  It's the sort of thing that is cute when a toddler calms down after a snack of apples and cheese, but is sobering when research finds judges are more likely to pass harsher sentences before lunch. 

According to research by Dr. Lisa F. Barrett, our emotions are the product of information our body sends to our brain. The brain interprets this information as either pleasant or unpleasant, calming our arousing. Dr. Barrett suggests that in order to gain greater mastery over our emotions, we should have a wide emotional vocabulary–which includes knowing very emotionally specific words like "hangry" and "schadenfreude."  Knowing lots of word for emotions helps us accurately reflect on what we are feeling, and allows us to pull ourselves incrementally from somewhere near "despair" to somewhere closer to "meh" though behavior interventions, psychotherapy and sometimes medication.

Dr. Barrett also notes that taking care of our bodies can help regulate emotion.  Our Western culture values business, instant gratification, sleep deprivation and the separation of our minds from our bodies. The fact of the matter is that we are very smart animals, so smart that we sometimes forget to take care of the animal part of ourselves. We stay over-committed and over-extended and wonder why we are unhealthy and unhappy.  In order to live in harmony with our animal selves, we must take care of our bodies. In my practice, I use the acronym DEWS as a short hand for the basics of self care.  It stands for "Diet, Exercise, Water and Sleep."

Diet- Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.

Exercise- 20 minutes of something to get your heart pumping every day.

Water- At least 64 ounces of fluids, preferably water

Sleep- Most adults need between 7-9 hours every 24 hour period

It seems simple, too simple. But it is amazing how closely physical health and mental health are linked. Many unpleasant symptoms resolve themselves with a solid base of intentional self care. Some clients also find that their medication seems to be more effective.

So, the next time you're feeling angry at everyone around you, ask yourself when your last snack was.

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