shutterstock_73893115Would it surprise you to learn that diet and exercise alone may not be the only factors helping you achieve or sustain a healthy weight? For most people, it’s true. In fact, a very important piece of that puzzle is your mental health. It’s not something that’s often openly or honestly discussed, but because of recent high-profile media attention, that will hopefully change for the better. Mental health is an important topic we should all be comfortable thinking and talking about because it has serious implications on our overall health.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) define mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, works productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Studies show that mental disorders – especially depressive disorders – are strongly related to the occurrence, successful treatment, and course of many chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and asthma. They are also associated with many risk behaviors for chronic disease such as physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking, and insufficient sleep. In fact, the results of a National Institute for Mental Health-funded study show that nearly one out of four cases of obesity is associated with a mood or anxiety disorder.

To support mental health, we must think of ourselves wholly in regards to our emotional, psychological, physical and social wellness. As Mental Health Awareness Month is observed in May, we should all take an inventory of our own wellness, which is defined as “an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence.” Our emotional well-being is our personal happiness, cheerfulness, optimism, peacefulness, and overall satisfaction in life. Psychological well-being is tied to our self-acceptance, personal growth including openness to new experiences, hopefulness, purpose in life, spirituality, self-direction, and positive relationships. Lastly, our social well-being is how we feel we fit into society and groups as a whole; it’s our personal self-worth and usefulness as we contribute to a sense of community, and our relationships with others.

Because living a “successful existence” means something different to each of us, wellness can be many things. In pursuit of happiness and achieving our goals and full potential, here are some suggestions from Mental Health America to inspire you to find your own ways to achieve positive mental health through small decisions in your every day life:

  • Making good health a priority
  • Saving more money
  • Nurturing healthy relationships
  • Being nice to yourself
  • Showing gratitude to others
  • Contributing to your community
  • Eating one less cookie
  • Looking for a job that showcases your talents
  • Learning how to let go of fears and doubts
  • Walking instead of driving
  • Playing with your pet
  • Treating yourself to a day at the spa or a round of golf
  • Eating fresh fruit from your own garden
  • Mastering a difficult yoga pose
  • Finding ways to laugh more every day

I think now is the perfect time to let go of shame, embarrassment, and negative stigmas surrounding mental health and mental illness in order to create open conversations, encourage each other and show ourselves and those we love the compassion that every human deserves. After all, if you’re struggling with mental health, you’re not alone. The CDC estimates that only about 17% of U.S adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health. And because positive mental health is linked to improved overall health outcomes, it’s just as important to focus on your mental health as it is your physical and emotional well-being.