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Almost everyone experiences a case of the blues once in a while. Studies suggest 20-25 percent of the population struggles with a mental health issue at least once a year. Feeling sad, lonely or disappointed about a negative life event is natural. Taking care of your mental health during stressful times is essential. When a person’s mood doesn’t lift after a few weeks, this might signal there is a more serious problem.

So How Do We Know When It’s a Case of the Doldrums and When to Seek Medical Help?

Mental health disorders range from very mild to severe. Immediately following a traumatic event, like being skipped over for a well-deserved promotion at work, or ending a relationship, many people temporarily have trouble sleeping, lose interest in eating and skip the social gatherings for a few weeks before getting back into the normal routine. For others, feeling down slowly becomes the new normal. When the blues last more than two weeks, it is wise to talk to your doctor because prolonged insomnia, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol and poor nutrition impair a person’s judgment, which may lead to risky behavior that threatens emotional, physical and mental health.

For many people, anxiety, depression, and lethargy become a way of life. While most would not hesitate to seek medical help immediately if they break a bone, there is a stigma associated with mental illness, and some are too embarrassed to talk to their doctor. Roughly 50 percent of people with a severe psychiatric disorder don’t receive treatment, some are not even aware they have a mental health problem. Sadly, lifestyle changes and medication could dramatically transform these individuals lives.

Taking care of your mental health starts with getting a medical evaluation to determine if there are undiagnosed conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or an autoimmune deficiency. Managing chronic illness and mental health challenges includes developing a wellness plan that ensures your body gets proper nutrition to thrive, not just survive. The human body needs a healthy combination of meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts to support the many systems we depend on every day. A nutritionist or dietitian can also help people who have special dietary needs, such as vegans, vegetarians and people diagnosed with Celiac’s disease, develop personalized meal plans that support a healthy mind and body.

Exercise is very important for those who want to take care of their mental health. Some people think of exercise as a tool that controls weight and gives the body a pleasing appearance. Regular movement and conditioning do so much more than affect the way people look. When a person exercises, chemical changes in the brain improve cognition, elevate the mood and support healthy, restorative sleep patterns. Exercise also activates the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which triggers protein production that protects nerve cells, enhancing cell survival rate and performance. If a person wants to improve their focus, concentration and mood, adding daily exercise is a great place to start.

A balanced nutrition and exercise program naturally promotes healthy sleep patterns, something that is essential for managing mental health challenges. Removing distracting appliances from the bedroom, adding room darkening shades and bringing in a sound machine to mask ambient sounds helps some people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Whether a person is trying to recover from a one-time emotionally taxing event, or struggling to manage an ongoing mental health disorder, taking care of your mental health is essential to living life to its fullest. Sometimes lifestyle changes are enough to put a person back on the path to enjoying life again. For some people, the best approach is combining proper nutritional support with prescription medication and therapy. Each person has unique health challenges. It is time to shed the stigma. There should be no more shame in seeking help for behavioral and mental health issues than asking for help when you have a broken bone.

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