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A Proactive Approach to Mental Health
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” ~ Stephen King
Whether you are starting your academic pursuits, or you are nearing the completion of your university degree; self-care and a healthy perspective on life are vital for academic achievement. The academic environment may leave you feeling overwhelmed, confused, frightened and insecure. Self-care and one’s perspective will be a vital player in your personal pursuits. Self-care and having a healthy perspective on life is not only about your mindset, your psychological health, your temperament, your ability to prove resilient, your physical and emotional health, but your overall daily personal habits and interactions.
Consider the guy that works his physique out; while he may have a great physique, all is null if he has not conditioned his psychological self as well. Our minds are not a separate entity from our physiological self; nor is our physiological self a separate entity from our psychological condition. Rather, we are only a complete vessel maneuvering the constructs of life, when we include all perspectives of our lives.
Beginning Your Day
We must begin our day with a good meal cognitively, physically, and psychologically. For feeding your mind is just as important as feeding your physical self. Personally, I have got caught up in the deluge of the news media. I have allowed myself to partake of negative media meals only to feel unsatisfied and disenchanted with life. It is of the utmost importance that you consider the information and communications that you are digesting.
We have all heard the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Scientists have recently been vigorously studying, researching and debating the breakfast myth. While there has been great debate; scientists and researchers alike simply do not know what the most important meal is. Yet, scientifically we have a pretty good idea of the effect and consequences of poor diet, eating habits, and the benefit of healthy eating and diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “healthy eating can help individuals achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, consume important nutrients, and reduce the risk of developing health conditions…” Reversely, a poor diet “…can lead to energy imbalance, increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese…,” increase the risk of physiological and psychological conditions; and undernutrition can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, and school performance” (CDC, 2017, Online).
Scientists have frequently concluded that breakfast should remain a staple of meal time. “For kids, studies have shown that eating a meal first thing in the morning has a positive influence on cognitive performance in school, especially on task-oriented
behaviors—and particularly in students younger than 18. But for us older folks, the exact time that we chow down on our first meal of the day is really about personal preference” (Maldarelli, 2017, Online). Arguably, I am of the mindset that you should eat when your body informs you that it time to consume fuel. Likewise, I rarely miss a meal in the mornings. In fact, I have personally discovered that if I do, then I am going to pay an overall price, both cognitively and physically.
For many college, university and high students, the type of food consumed will have a direct affect upon their personal performance cognitively, physically, and academically. Do not delay eating when your body is signaling a hunger alert. Even if, you consume a protein bar, you body and mind will reward you with good performance and alertness. Avoid eating foods that are lacking in nourishment. It is critically important that you consume food that will provide you a healthy balance. Your personal performance will be affected by the foods and drinks that you consume.
Starting Your Day
As a person, I learned long ago that the manner with which you approach your day, will assuredly have a direct or indirect impact upon the remainder of your day. In fact, the way with which you approach your mornings, will have a direct and indirect impact upon the lives of others. Yes, you have an affect upon others in your unique and very personal community in life. When we interact with others, they are invariably affected by our mood, our perspectives, our persona, and our personal influence.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Former US Navy Admiral, William H. McRaven. Admiral McRaven addressed the manner with which he starts his day. Interestingly enough, Admiral McRaven’s approach is very reflective of my own approach to life. Admiral McRaven describes his approach to mornings: “So if you want to change the world start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. And if by chance you had a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made. That you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
Admiral McRaven’s approach is not the only approach to life, but it is an effective and proactive approach to life. In order to live life, you must live it completely.
“You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” ~ Jim Rohn
The Pressure of Life and Living
The pressure of life and living can prove a daunting experience. At most, you may frequently feel overwhelmed and at best you may feel the victor; either way, life can throw many obstacles your way. Therefore, it is important how you choose to confront the challenges of life.
Do you take an active or passive role in your life? In my experience, those who are the most successful players in this game called life are the proactive ones. By definition, they are the people who are responding to life as it happens rather than reacting to it after it has happened. A proactive individual is not looking to place shame or blame on others, rather they are taking complete responsibility for their individual role in life. Proactive players are not waiting around for others to provide life’s answers; rather are proactive in nature. A proactive player finds the answers, complete the tasks, and creates his or her own personal journey.
How does one prove proactive? Anyone can become a proactive player in life, but it will involve personal responsibility. Personal responsibility involves personal dedication, time, commitment, and involvement. For everyone has experienced the excuse bug; why they couldn’t and why they can’t; but it takes personal responsibility and initiative to make things happen. Proactive people are visionaries and macro-thinkers; they see the big picture. They see the ultimate prize and are seeking ways to achieve it. Being a proactive player in life begins with your willingness to accept your personal responsibility.
A Proactive Approach to Mental Health
Proactive living is about living life through the lens of personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is the recognition that I am completely in charge of my life. While I may be incapable of changing the minds and perspectives of others; I can without a doubt change my mind and perspectives therein. Personal responsibility is ultimately about finding balance within life. You should never accept the excuses of others, nor should you place blame or shame upon the life of another. After all, you are ultimately responsible for the life that you lead.
Responsibility Put Into Action
Eating is the essence of life. We must not only consume food, but we must consume a balance of positive language and communication. After all, what your mind entertains will have an affect upon your overall person. Likewise, physically eating a well balanced meal will have an impact upon the brain’s neurochemistry which controls mood and stress response. It also has an effect upon an individual’s ability to perform academically, physically, emotionally, and interactively. While a healthy diet is a big part of any successful self-care plan, it is only a part of a life lived proactively. Living a life proactively will involve your personal responsibility:
1. Dedication: as a student, the quality of being dedicated or committed to a task can have a profound affect. As an individual, personal dedication to self-care and healthy perspectives will take time and personal persuasion.
2. Time: As a professor and clinician, I have been bombarded by the excuse bug. The excuses commonly involve the difficulties and challenges of the assignment; but my favorite is the excuse related to a lack of time. For some, the excuse may be authentic, but for so many, the lack of time is simply an excuse. We always make time for those things that we so deeply desire to accomplish.
3. Commitment: As an individual, we must all set aside some time for self-improvement and commitment to various tasks. As students, formally declaring or promise to complete a task can be challenging at times. We have all been bitten by the excuse bug, but the truth is, if we want to accomplish anything in this life we must show some perseverance and commitment. In essence, commitment is the willingness to pledge ourselves to a promise or an undertaking.
4. Involvement: Involvement is the gold standard for personal responsibility. Involvement is the emotional and personal association that someone pledges to life and tasks therein.
As students, you will most assuredly be faced with an array of personalities throughout the life of your academic pursuits. You may encounter individuals who are likeminded, accepting and who have learned to accept his or her own personal responsibility in life. Moreover, you will most assuredly meet individuals who are negative, hostile and broken. Avoid showing these individuals pity, rather empower them to change their own perspectives on life. Personal responsibility teaches us that we do not have to accept anyone’s negative behaviors, attitudes or perspectives on life. Each day should be a new day. Each hour should be a new hour and each moment should be an opportunity to live life anew.
Facing Your Challenges and Proving Successful
As students, and in working life you will face many challenges and triumphs; you will prove the victor and the loser occasionally; but always keep in mind that you are capable of changing the pathway of your life. You are the master and commander of your ship and you can choose to either anchor it or set it afloat. For many, challenges are often a barrier proving unmovable and impenetrable. For others, challenges are a mere obstacle begging you to maneuver around them. While every living, breathing human faces challenges; it is the manner with which they face the challenge that sets them apart. It is never too late to change your perspective of life’s challenges. Life’s challenges are for the strengthening of your character not the weakening of your persona. The next time you are faced with a challenge, rather than viewing a challenge with bitterness, contempt and opposition; try viewing the challenge as an opportunity for growth and maturation. Challenges are opportunities for self-improvement and self-care.
Challenges are instruments of good begging us to prove successful. Thomas Edison was once quoted as saying that “I have not failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In essence, Thomas Edison had not lived a life without challenges or perceived failure, rather it was the perspective which he saw the challenges and failures that separates him from so many others. After all, we provide meaning and definition to the challenges with which we face. My hope is for this article is, that it may change any negative perspective that you have laid claim to; motivate you to change any negative habits; and inspire you to prove your ultimate best in life. After all, it is your life and you need to stake a claim in it.
1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC (2017, August 28) Nutrition facts. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm
2) Maldarelli, C. (2017, May 2) Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Retrieved from: http://www.popsci.com/eating-breakfast
Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S. is an author, speaker, advocate and clinician in Canada and the United States. He provides those he serves, the effective tools for communication, interaction, and essentials for living life abundantly. He has achieved the merits of a PhD in Psychology with a Specialization in Clinical Psychology. Visit: asadonbrown.com