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Focusing on Your Mental Health During National Women's Health Week

Focusing on Your Mental Health During National Women's Health Week

By Stacey Feintuch

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Women tend to put others first. Whether it's our spouse, kids, friends or parents, we feel obligated to be a caretaker. We think so much needs to be handled—and we can get overwhelmed.

It's crucial to take care of yourself—your physical, mental and emotional needs—for the sake of your well-being. Self-care is far from selfish; it's vital for a healthier and happier you.

If you don't properly take care of yourself, your body will suffer. Self-care can prevent you from becoming irritable, burned out, impatient, exhausted and the like. Read more about managing your anxiety with self-care.

Chronic stress weakens the immune system, making us more susceptible and vulnerable to weight gain, colds, sleep issues, high blood pressure, cardiac issues and more. And drowning your sorrows in a Netflix and junk food binge can lead to obesity, diabetes and other diseases, and unhappiness.

Here are some ways mental health impacts your life.

Benefits of speaking with a health care professional about your mental health
You may feel embarrassed to talk to someone about issues like anxiety, abuse, depression or grief. But speaking with a trained mental health care professional, such as a psychiatrist, is a good way to help improve your mental health. These doctors are trained to deal with sensitive issues. If you're honest and open about your emotional difficulties, you can get the right treatments for your needs.

How being active is good for your mental health
Study after study has shown the benefits of exercise to help manage anxiety. "Exercise has been shown to help reduce stress," says , MS, RD. "It can improve cognitive function, alertness and concentration, which tend to be negatively affected by stress and anxiety." It may be the last thing you want to do early in the morning or after a long day. But exercise releases feel-good endorphins that can activate the brain's opiate receptors and have a natural pain-killer effect, says Turoff. "They can also improve sleep which is highly correlated with stress," she says. If you aren't up for interacting with a room of spandex-clad and svelte gym goers, exercise at home or outside. Pound the pavement, follow an app or pop in an exercise DVD. 

How eating healthy is important for your mental health
You likely know that eating a nutritious diet helps maintain a healthy body weight and a healthy heart, reduces your risk of developing some chronic diseases. also finds that your food choices can impact your mood and mental health, aka the food-mood connection. Some studies found that people without a healthy diet were more likely to report symptoms of depression or other mental health issues. There is also an association between certain nutrients in food—like folic acid, vitamin D, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids—and emotional well-being.

How sleep affects your mental health
Americans are notoriously sleep deprived. And sleep and mental health are closely connected, with sleep deprivation affecting your psychological state. In fact, those with mental health problems like anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders are more likely to have insomnia, narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, says Read more about common sleep disorders.

Treatments for sleep problems include lifestyle changes like getting exercise, quitting smoking and drinking, and relaxing using techniques like meditation. You also want to practice good sleep hygiene. Learn about the secrets of good sleepers.

How alcohol can affect your mental health
Many people drink to change their mood or mental state. Alcohol can temporarily relieve feelings of depression and anxiety. But, it depresses the central nervous system, making our moods fluctuate. It can numb emotions, leading us to avoid difficult issues. Plus, it can intensify or reveal underlying feelings like trauma memories. Reliving these memories under the influence of alcohol can threaten your personal safety. Some people use alcohol as a way to self-medicate, an attempt to cheer themselves up. But, it can worsen existing health problems. That's because regular alcohol consumption changes the chemistry in our brain, decreasing feel-good serotonin levels. In turn, since you have less serotonin, you're left even more depressed. And you may turn to even more alcohol to medicate your depression.