Your first steps toward preventative care (and a use of the phrase "fixin' to")

The first thing to address when thinking about a healthy mind has to be the biological brain-as-blob-of-meat issue.  Wait, don't skip this one!

It may seem like you've already heard about how it's important to keep your body healthy.  And it is.  But not just for the nebulous goal of "health and long life".  It's impossible for your brain to function at its peak if your body is poorly maintained.  You can actually contract mental illness just by failing to take care of your body (Moy 2009).  And not just dementia or anorexia nervosa. 

If you're concerned about maintaining your mental health, or if you've struggled with depression or anxiety and you worried that you might relapse, you can't afford to dismiss your physical health.  I'll talk more about what that exactly means.  Yes, I actually talk to myself to help me write.  Shut up, it works. 

This makes sense, if you think about it.  Your brain is an organ, so just like your heart or lungs, it's affected by obesity, high cholesterol, thyroid problems, vitamin and mineral deficiency, and myriad other conditions.  The brain is powered by nutrients in the blood, which come from everything you consume, like food, beverage, drugs, air particles, and chemicals.  If you don't take care of the brain's needs for nutrients and oxygen, it can't possibly serve you properly.  It would be like giving a race horse nothing but corn husks and dirt and then wondering why he doesn't keep up with his peers.  Your brain only gets what you decide to give it.  You have to actively choose to give it the best you can, and your brain will serve you well for years to come. 

I'm fixing to (my mom is from Oklahoma, where that phrase is common) give you some ideas on this in later posts.  The main one I want to emphasize for now is regular check-ups with your doctor.  And while I'm at it, nothing on this blog should be considered as medical advice, because I'm not a doctor and I don't want to get sued.  And I don't have anything worth suing over, except my wonderful family. 

But you should go see your actual doctor.  He/she can do all kinds of helpful things, like checking your blood pressure and BMI, monitoring your prescriptions, answering questions about any symptoms you have (you want to get that rash looked at), and telling you about other tests you should have regularly, like mammograms, prostate screening, and PAP tests.  Although these things don't seem directly linked to your mental health, they absolutely are.  That fatigue you're feeling could be a blood chemistry problem, and the anxiety might be caused by excessive caffeine or sugar.  You could get the mental health symptoms taken care of as easily as a single doctor visit.  So call your PCP (primary care physician, not angel dust.  More about drug use later)! 

Moy, M. L. et al. Multivariate models of determinants of health-related quality of life in severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, Vol. 46, 2009, pp. 643-54

What's with the Latin?

Sometimes, when my colleagues and I are in a particularly expansive and idealistic frame of mind, usually aided by some Malbec and a dangerous feeling of daring to stay awake far later than bedtime, we fantasize about a world in which psychological health is broached in the same was as physical health.

Sort of like this - income disparities aside, many of my readers take basic daily actions to care for their bodies and those of their family members. You might make sure to really really try to get eight hours of sleep, or at least insist that your teenager does. You scrub your body free of bacteria and you keep your hands and face especially clean to prevent infection. You brush your teeth, so that when you're older, you still have teeth to brush. You probably give some thought to the nutrition of your breakfast food, at least when you're buying it in the store (you know, when you thought about buying the packet of plain oatmeal and somehow ended up home with Frosted Flakes®).

So by the time you get to starting your day, you've performed several actions that are designed to provide health and long life. Don't forget about your annual doctor visit, your trips to the eye doctor, dentist, GYN, and any specialists you see. These are all just for you – you're also probably taking care of your family's health as well! Those of we with pets even take them to the vet every year.

Now ask yourself this: what was the last thing you did for your brain's health? Did you throw one of those fish oil supplements at it, work half the newspaper crossword two weeks ago and then hope for the best? If so, you're a little bit ahead of the curve.
See, psychological health plays more like emergency care for most people. You're arguing constantly with your teenage daughter, and just about the time you think you will lose your sanity if she slams that door one more time...

you find a therapist in your insurance network, see him/her for ten sessions until the crisis passes, and then you head back to your normal life.

What if it didn't need to be this way? Can you imagine, like my wine-soaked peers, how we might do life differently if we kept tabs, even passively, on our brain health? Even better, are there some simple things that could actually help prevent those crisis situations, so that instead of needing to see a counselor right the hell now, we could be aware of a problem building and defuse it?

I'm so glad you asked.

Insanity Wolf!

Insanity Wolf!