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“Balance is not something you find. It’s something you create.” Do you live by this truth? Do you recognize it as true? Oftentimes, we search for something that doesn’t exist. In this case, balance does exist, but it is not something we will simply stumble across—it is something we can and must create.

And it’s crucial that we do so in virtually every single area of life… but let’s start small. Gabriella Farkas, MD, PhD, is here to help you focus on finding balance in just four areas of life, which are vital to your mental health:

    1) Sleep

    Many of us undervalue the importance of sleep. But the reality is that restful sleep (and copious amounts of it) is crucial to our mental health and overall wellbeing. When we neglect it as so, our focus, emotional stability, productivity, and much more are negatively affected. Farkas further explains the importance of sleep and why you should start taking it more seriously:

    “Many people lead such busy lives that they have to make sacrifices in order to accomplish everything, and the first thing to go is usually sleep. What most people don’t know is that sleep is both a system and a process. According to research, an adult should sleep for 7-9 hours per night such that their sleep duration is divisible by 90 minutes. This is because the brain cycles through the several stages of sleep every 90 minutes and waking up at the end of a cycle results in greater restfulness. However, the body and mind also need to systematically ease in and out of the sleep process. First, it is best to keep one’s hours of sleep constant—falling asleep at about the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. Second, it is best to avoid mental and physical stimulation and exertion before and after sleeping.”

    2) Exercise

    Another crucial pillar in our lives is physical activity. It seems that as we grow older, we lose the motivation to exercise, which proves to have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Fortunately, however, just fitting in a 30-minute workout a few times a week can get you back on track and have amazing benefits. You just have to push through the laziness!

    “Those who have ever experienced a ‘lazy day,’ or worse, a ‘lazy week,’ understand the feeling when being sedentary sinks in—it can range from a sense of purposelessness to depression. Getting up and moving, going anyway, is the simplest and often best way to solve this problem,” Farkas says. “Even better than simply moving is to exercise: walk somewhere, take the dog out, ride a bike, take stairs instead of the elevator. There is no set amount of necessary exercise, but 30 minutes seems to be a key point; though, mood improvement in particular has been shown to improve within just five minutes of moderate exercise.”

    3) Relationships and Social Engagement

    Relationships—those with significant others, friends, and family—can also have a serious effect on your overall health and wellbeing. To ensure the pendulum swings in the desired direction, you must maintain healthy relationships (which require effective communication and self-awareness, among other things) and simply make time for your loved ones. “Romantic relationships can have a polar effect on mental health—bad relationships make it much worse and good relationships can make it much better,” Farkas explains. “Some studies have found that a healthy relationship can serve as a preventative measure for anxiety and neurotic personality traits.”

    “However, even without having a strong romance, being sociable with anyone can be beneficial; isolated individuals are more likely to experience mental health issues. Everyone has seen or heard that classic scene where two friends get together and one says, “I have been looking forward to this all week!” Having a social event of some kind at least once a week can have lasting health effects. For many, getting involved in the community (i.e. volunteer work, churches, etc.) is a great way to stay active and socially engaged. Spending time on others helps to not be so wrapped up in one’s own head.”

    4) Work

    And the final item on the list that can make or break your mental health? Work. Many of us spend the majority of our time at work, but many of us also don’t enjoy this time. In fact, recent research shows that many workers experience mental health issues because of work. Farkas explains these findings: “A recent workplace design study in the U.K. found that 12% of workers leave their job because occupational pressures cause a mental health issue, and an additional 4% quit because the mental health services provided were insufficient. Only 29% of those surveyed found their workplace to provide enough mental health support, and only 26% thought the workplace had a positive impact on their mental health.”

    “The risk of developing or exasperating mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, increases in workplace scenarios with high demands, minimal control over one’s work, imbalances between effort required and the payoff, occupational uncertainty, stress, and bullying. Feeling disrespected and undervalued at one’s job makes unemployment seem psychologically preferable, and in truth, it almost is in some cases. Yes, everyone has to pay bills, but searching for a better job in one’s free time isn’t uncommon.” In sum, it’s important you put some time and effort into fulfilling your work life—doing so will improve and protect your mental health for years to come.”

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