Protective Factors for Mental Health

I am not a professional at this, but I just wanted to list and discuss some well known protective factors for mental health.

Sleep routine

The list of benefits from having a good night's sleep are immense. They're covered in depth in the book "Why We Sleep" by Dr Matt Walker.

Sleep is so essential that I almost feel like no other problem can be diagnosed in the face of a sleep deficit. Think you have ADHD? Make sure you're getting enough sleep and then re-evaluate.

Friendships

There's a classic situation where middle-aged married men find they've done nothing to maintain their relationships with friends, and suddenly they don't have any close friends at all.

If you are in that situation I have a simple remedy: buy a trailer. As soon as you buy a trailer you will find that long-lost friends and relatives will contact you to borrow it every weekend. And not only will they want to borrow it, they will insist on having you accompany the trailer to donate your time and labor, assisting with: moving furniture, hauling yard materials, disposing of bodies etc.

Ok, perhaps the trailer idea isn't for everyone, and isn't the best way to re-establish old friendships. It's just one option.

Sometimes men prefer "structured" or "transactional" friendships, where there's a "reason" to get together. A sports team is a classic example of this, or a bike-riding group, or a book club or a board game group etc.

If you've lost contact with friends it's reasonable to predict that some of your old friends are also in the same situation, with decreasing numbers of active friendships. Re-establishing contact may be easier than you'd expect.

Hobbies

Speaking of structured friendships brings us also to hobbies.

Activities regularly done in leisure time for pleasure. These are shown to assist in developing robust mental health. Everyone has their own unique idea of pleasure and I leave it as an exercise for the reader.

But in general categories we have things like: music related, sports related, construction related, collection related and so on.

A list of hobbies at wikipedia

The categories they have are, and 1 example of each are:

  • Indoor (e.g. Baking)
  • Outdoor (e.g. Archery)
  • Collection (e.g. Comic books)
  • Competitive (e.g. Axe throwing)
  • Observational (e.g. Gongoozling)

Daily Exercise

Bike riding, running, or -- the king of daily exercise -- walking.

What do you do, and when?

Relationships

The number and quality of your close personal relationship is a big factor in mental well being. This is not always something we can control, but we can choose to turn toward people instead of turning away.

Another little tweak that alter the course of our lives is to choose to eat lunch with other people, such as work colleagues, as often as possible. When you eat together with people, you find your barriers are lowered and friendship naturally develops. It's the most uncanny thing!

Substance-not-abuse

Drinking alcohol is a fairly significant part of our culture and it can help lubricate the wheels of social discourse. But alcohol can have some terrible impacts on our mental health. It impacts the quality of our sleep, depresses our central nervous system, damages our organs, and it can indirectly lead to injuries and damaged relationships: all things that are bad for our state of mind.

The habitual nature of substance abuse means that the negative consequences are multiplied over and over as the consumption continues.

Meditation

Are you someone who knows they need to meditate, but meditation pisses you off? Let me tell you a secret that is designed just for you. Gurus hate me!

Long slow out breaths stimulate your vagus nerve.

There are two systems: the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system. The sympathetic is for raised heartbeat, action time, fight or flight. The parasympathetic is for relaxation, calm times, rest and repair. It is into this second system, the parasympathetic, that the vagus nerve sends it messages.

When you stimulate the vagus nerve, you cannot help but relax.

So do a long slow out breath or two (or fifty) any time you need to improve your calm. Don’t call it meditation, call it SCIENCE.

Pro tip: To do a long slow out breath you first need to do a biggish “in” breath (fast or slow, doesn’t matter). Do this often enough and you make a habit of it. There, now the student has become the master.

(see twitter thread)

Altruism

When you help others, you feel better. Being involved in causes that are bigger than yourself help you step out of your own petty life and into the stream of human civilization.

Pets

Keeping pets is generally shown to be good for mental health.

I wouldn't race out and get a pet, in a cynical gesture merely to give my mental health a protective jab. But if I was thinking of getting a pet anyway, I'd be pleased to know that it could be good for the brain.