Stress is a choice. We all face stress, but how or whether we deal with it is a matter of personal choice. Whatever the source of stress – illness, financial woes, crime, losing loved ones – our ability to cope with calamity is always worse when we succumb to stress.

Have mental hygiene that is at least as good as your dental hygiene. Short-term stress can drive us to greater heights, but long-term, chronic stress is an independent pathology that, like smoking, creates illness. It causes high blood pressure, hardens arteries, ages you faster, and disrupts sleep. It’s this chronic stress that we have to guard against. If brushing and flossing fight cavities as part of dental hygiene, then exercise and meditation reduce stress as part of mental hygiene.levitra

Combine meditation with exercise. A wonderful 1978 study compared stress levels of exercisers verses meditators and found that a) exercisers had more cognitive stress, but less somatic (physical) stress, and b) meditators had the opposite: less cognitive stress and more somatic stress. See the study here.  More recent studies link meditation to changes in the brain that literally rewire you to better handle stress. Combining meditation with exercise will reduce both cognitive and somatic stress.

Tips to improve mental hygiene:

  1. Exercise 5 days a week. Do something intense for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Meditate daily. You can start with just 1 minute.
  3. Get sunlight. A brief dose of daily sunlight is great for vitamin D production and improves mood.
  4. Socialize. Always eat with someone.
  5. Believe in something. Pick a religion, a philosophy, or even a sports team for an external source of mental fortitude and inspiration.

Beware of the exercise/sleep trap. Exercise is an excellent mood enhancer, with daily bouts of aerobic exercise having an impact on mood comparable to mild antidepressant medication. However, these benefits are limited when we sacrifice sleep for exercise.  Sacrificing sleep leads to changes in ghrelin and leptin, the hormones that control how hungry you get and when you feel full. Sleep less and you’ll overeat.