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Leading a Healthy Lifestyle

"Those who do not find some time every day for health
must one day sacrifice a lot of time for illness."

Father Sebastian Kneipp

Here are some lifestyle habits that can help you to maintain balance and stability in your emotional life.

1) Find ways to create structure/routine in your daily activities. Optimal amounts of structure seem to decrease anxiety and help stabilize emotions.

2) Find ways to connect to the natural world. Whether it's watching a moonrise over a mountain peak, a sunset over the ocean, or simply taking a leisurely walk in your city park, spending time in nature can elicit a healing connection to Mother Earth.

3) Part of connecting to nature means getting enough exposure to natural light. Many spiritual paths teach that God and light are one and the same. For those people who are light-sensitive, inadequate exposure to light can create depressive syndromes such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you live in a dark climate and suffer from SAD, use full-spectrum lights or halogen lamps to enhance your exposure to light. An hour of exposure to outdoor light in the early morning can also make a difference. Some people find that lighting candles on a dark winter's day brings warmth and coziness to the environment.

4) Find ways to reduce the stress in your life. Take time to rest and regenerate so that you do not overextend yourself with too many projects or commitments. Because our culture puts so much emphasis on doing, it is important to schedule in periods of time to relax and just "be." You may wish to meditate, walk, listen to your favorite music, or engage in a hobby where you can relax in a focused way.

5) Avoid using drugs and alcohol as a means of alleviating discomfort. While it can be tempting to use alcohol to relax or get to sleep (or to use caffeine to focus), you run the risk of developing a new problem-chemical dependency. Apply the tools described in this section-e.g., deep breathing, exercise, massage, self-talk, 12-step groups, prescribed medication, etc.-as an alternative.

6) When asked for his definition of mental health, Sigmund Freud replied, "The ability to work and to love." Employment is therapeutic for a variety of reasons; it draws us outside of ourselves, brings us into contact with other people, and gives us a sense of identity and independence. As one middle-aged woman recently testified at a mental health conference, "The most important factor in my recovery was being able to return to work!" Conversely, I have seen depression brought on by a person's lack of employment, or being involved in work that does not express a genuine passion.

7) Closely related to work is the process of goal setting. Goal setting gives you the means to take that imagined future and bring it into the present. In setting goals, we define what we want, and then develop a concrete plan by which we can manifest that good. Goals should be realistic and attainable by small, incremental steps. Having a positive vision of the future gives life purpose and meaning-a powerful antidote to depression. In addition, achieving small goals, especially after a period of depression, can help you to believe in yourself and your ability to change.

8) Try to find small ways to experience joy or pleasure. Create a "Play/Pleasure Inventory Chart." Write down those activities that are enjoyable and sprinkle your life with them-e.g., eating a good meal, working in the garden, nurturing a pet, spending time with friends, etc. Think of things that are fun, used to be fun, or might be fun. You can then schedule times for these activities into your weekly routine.

One type of pleasurable experience that is also good for the body is therapeutic massage. Massage relaxes the muscles, promotes lymph drainage and stimulates the immune system. Human touch is profoundly healing for body, mind and spirit. While many people are "touch hungry," those folks who have experienced physical violence or sexual abuse may need to be "desensitized " to their negative conditioning around touch before they feel safe and open to its healing benefits. If you think this may be true for you, consult with your therapist or someone who specializes in treating survivors of physical/sexual trauma.

9) Begin and end each day with an uplifting thought or word. You may choose a prayer, an affirmation or a statement of thanksgiving. There are a host of daily affirmation books and collections of inspirational stories that you can refer to. This simple ritual of focusing on and affirming the good helps to create an optimistic attitude which strengthens the immune system and the body's ability to cope with stress.