Health psychology is a specialized form of psychology that focuses on the body as a whole, instead of just focusing on the mind. A health psychologist creates treatment plans for patients that look at how psychological, biological and social factors influence their physical and mental health. You don’t need a degree or a doctor’s appointment to apply health psychology techniques to your daily life. Here are a few tips to help you live your best life while staying both mentally and physically healthy.
1. It’s Not in Your Head
Psychological conditions are generally considered to be all “in your head” — for example, people often oversimplify mental illnesses as just an imbalance of brain chemicals. What many people forget is that your body is a complex network of interconnected systems. Injure a muscle and you’ll quickly realize how many movements you took for granted when that muscle was working at full strength.
Taking care of your physical health is one of the key tenets of health psychology. This doesn’t mean you have to go on a diet, train to run a marathon or anything like that. Just focus on eating nutritious foods and exercising a few times a week. Multiple studies have shown the beneficial link between exercise and mental health.
2. Be Social
Social factors also tend to influence your psychological state of mind. Human beings, by their very nature, are social creatures. We reach out to each other, we form communities, and even when we can’t be physically near each other, we connect in other ways — decades ago, it was by phone and letter, and now it’s through the nearly endless types of social media.
While social situations can also be a source of stress, in general, we need to be social to be our best selves. Take time to reach out to friends or family members, or just start chatting up strangers on the subway. Either way, strengthening your social network is important.
3. Pay Attention
We’ve forgotten how to listen to our bodies, but in most cases, if there’s something wrong or missing from your life, your body will tell you. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re hungry, eat something. If you don’t feel right, take time to rest and recover — you might not actually be sick, it may just be your body’s way of telling you that you need a break.
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Humans are busy creatures — we try to pack as much into every single moment as we possibly can. Unfortunately for most of us, that means we’re cramming our days full of work, appointments and other things that stress us out. Make time to relax — physically block off downtime on your calendar if that’s what it takes to ensure you have a chance to recharge.
You can even relax while you’re working — try to take a break every 50 minutes or so. A recent study found the most productive people were not the ones who worked straight through the day, but those who took a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes of work.
5. Learn Self-Care
Self-care is a term we most commonly hear associated with mental illness, but it’s important in the world of health psychology as well. Self-care is simply taking time for yourself. This could include practically anything, but some of the most common forms of self-care include:
- Learn to say no. We love to be accommodating, but it’s OK to say no to things that are detrimental to your physical and mental health.
- Talk to a friend.
- Enjoy a favorite food.
- Spend time on your hobby.
- Stay in instead of going out.
- Order a pizza and binge-watch Netflix.
- See a movie by yourself.
Again, everyone’s self-care needs are different, and there’s no wrong way to take good care of yourself. On bad days, self-care can be as simple as taking a shower and putting on clean clothes. It’s entirely up to you.
6. Fail Again, Fail Better
Samuel Beckett was an Irish novelist who coined the iconic phrase, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Don’t let failures or rejections prevent you from enjoying your life or bouncing back from disappointment. Failing at something might be a blow to your self-esteem, but studies have found that trying again, even if you fail again, helps improve your self-esteem.
7. Ask for Help If You Need It
Finally, even if you do everything right and make your way through all the tips we’ve listed, you might still need some help. We’re no replacement for a trip to your local health psychologist. If you find you’re still struggling to find balance in your life, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s important to use all the resources available to help you live your best life. Psychologists and therapists are there to support you — make use of their skills.
These techniques might sound like pseudoscience, but looking holistically at the mind-body connection might help change the way we look at other fields of medicine as well.
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