A Holistic Positive Psychology Lifestyle Plan to Achieve and Maintain Your Best Mental Health
Chapter 1: Sleep
Chapter 2: Exercise
Chapter 3: Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Chapter 4: Light Exposure
Chapter 5: Social Support
Chapter 6: Anti-Rumination Strategies
Chapter 7: Mindfulness
Chapter 8: Purpose
Chapter 9: Environmental Wellness
Where to Go From Here
Recent studies in neuroscience and behavioral psychology have increased our understanding of mental health disorders.
For instance, it has been discovered that environmental factors and family dynamics can contribute to ADHD and that hyperactivity in the amygdala is one of the ways that trauma can stick around for a long, long time- in some cases, a lifetime. Science has also given us great self-help tools like Positive Neuroplasticity where, by intentionally engaging in positive experiences, such as seeing sunsets and exercising regularly, as well as doing special brain exercises, we do more than positive thinking...we take positive actions that improve our mental health.
A Holistic Positive Psychology Approach
At Vurb Wellness, we take a holistic positive psychology approach to achieve and maintain mental fitness. Our approach is holistic in that we look at the needs of the whole person because good mental health comes not from any one habit alone, but from a combination of physical, mental, and emotional care. Our approach is also based in positive psychology, in that we focus on practicing positive mental health behaviors because ultimately, it’s our everyday habits that determine our health outcomes more than any other factor. Many mental health conditions operate on a spectrum with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. With a focus on positive behaviors, we wake up each day and do what we know works. Working one on one with clients, I've seen where this approach and a combination of positive behaviors and rewiring exercises keep symptoms mild to none.
Dr. Ilardi’s Depression “Cure”
Around 2013, Vurb Wellness founder Christine Angelica discovered Dr. Stephen Ilard’s book, The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs, and began recommending it to her clients. After studying populations with low rates of depression for two decades, Ilardi concluded that depression is “a disease of civilization” and in The Depression Cure, he shares the six lifestyle changes that can help prevent depression. With his program, Ilardi has helped more than 70% of his clients stay depression-free.
The Vurb Wellness Lifestyle for Mental Fitness
Dr. Ilardi’s six lifestyle changes—sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, light exposure, social support, and anti-rumination strategies—worked really well for Christine and her emotional health clients, but even better when she added mindfulness to the mix. Over the years, her research into the brain and efforts to find the best tools for inner transformation led to the Vurb Wellness Lifestyle For Mental Fitness, a 9-part program for the management of psychological disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression. With Dr. Ilardi's antidepressant plan as its foundation, the Vurb Wellness Lifestyle is an even more effective plan for managing stress in the digital age and promoting happiness and inner calm.
Science-backed and Brain-focused
Our mental health affects how we think, feel, and act. For anyone who wants to keep psychological symptoms such as anxious thoughts and low energy mild to none, this 9-part plan was designed to help you. The lifestyle changes I'll be recommending are science-backed, but are not earth-shattering new information. We're all familiar with them: get enough sleep, do engaging activities, spend time in nature, yada, yada, yada. Things you probably know about or heard you should do. This e-book will go over the Why of each lifestyle habit, because that is what's fascinating here. Why are these particular lifestyle changes so important and what's their link to our mental health? How is skipping and skimping all these natural therapies contributing to the mental health crisis we face? With symptoms such as high rates of insomnia, distractibility, and decreased human connection, this question is being answered for us in real time.
In this e-book, I also put on my coaching hat to help you visualize what changing to them might look like. Expect some suggested strategies to help you take the next steps on each. As a coach, I've seen over and over again that when someone who is struggling with brain related condition pair good tools with a plan or process to stick to them, their symptoms improve. Consistency plus good tools is THE combination that unlocks the magic of mental fitness.
Ever since my sister was diagnosed as bipolar some 20 years ago, I’ve been researching natural remedies for depression. I’ve since worked with dozens of clients who struggled with various psychological disorders including ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, and depression and found that the same lifestyle appropriately tailored to each individual keeps every single one of them anywhere from more functional to highly functional. I found that everyone who wasn't following a healthy lifestyle before trying this one felt better within weeks. Not only did this convince me that Dr. Ilardi's "Cure" was helpful for more than depression, but it also convinced me of the power of sleep, exercise, fresh air, and connection. Furthermore, it led me to focus on brain-based therapies for a wide range of disorders and symptoms. In this e-book, I share the nine lifestyle habits that, when combined, have the potential to provide users with more symptoms-free days from stress, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other conditions related to the brain.
"The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night's sleep." Matthew Walker
You’ve probably noticed the difference in how you feel and behave after a restful night's sleep compared to a poor night’s sleep. We tend to be more focused, energetic, and functional. There is a science-based explanation for this. The brain does some important housekeeping while we sleep, such as repairing cells, restoring energy, and flushing out toxins. When our brains have had enough time to power down and complete these essential processes, we wake up feeling refreshed and energized.
If you’re one of the estimated 30-50 percent of the American population who struggles with insomnia and either have a mental health disorder or are at risk for one, you want to sort out your sleep issues– and fast. Getting sufficient quality sleep will ensure you’re not missing out on those restorative processes that happen overnight to allow you to wake up refreshed and functional.
Therapeutic benefits of sleep
During sleep, the hypothalamus regulates stressors and emotions, which improves your ability to cope with stressful emotions when awake.
During deep sleep, your body releases human growth hormone (HGH) which promotes the growth of new brain cells for better mental health.
The amount of sleep you get affects hormone levels such as ghrelin– which influences appetite, and cortisol– which influences stress levels. Keeping these hormones regulated by getting the sleep you need can improve various psychological and cognitive conditions.
The amygdala stores your experiences during sleep, committing the most meaningful ones to memory. This doesn't occur optimally when you're sleep deprived. So if you were to be lucky enough to catch Taylor Swift's Eras Tour, you might not remember the finer details about it due to reduced memory functioning.
During sleep, the immune system memorizes potential threats, such as bacteria, to better defend against them in the future.
Strategies to hack good sleep 🛠️
There are best practices that when followed, should result in good sleep. I list many of them here. If you’re following these best practices and is still not getting the rest you need, talk to your doctor to rule out a medical problem or to be referred to a sleep clinic.
Get light exposure during the day.
Get some exercise too.
Make your bedroom dark and quiet.
Use a humidifier to improve breathing.
Set room temperature between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Get the recommended magnesium from your diet.
Invest in a comfortable mattress.
Stick to a consistent bedtime schedule.
Leave your phone across the room.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
Cognitive Behavioral Techniques for Insomnia
CBT-I has emerged as the standard first-line treatment for insomnia. Techniques involve stimulus control, sleep restriction, and relaxation training. CBT-I is considered effective for both short-term as well as chronic insomnia. Visit freecbti.com for CBT-I resources and to learn more.
If your stress is chronic, you need healthy and ongoing stress management strategies such as talk therapy to help you "vent" and lifestyle tools that promote emotional health such as exercise, art, and engaging activities. I also recommend that you stay open to making drastic changes such as moving or cutting back your work hours, if such changes would permanently reduce your stress levels.
Fast-acting sleep aids
For the sleep you’re trying to get tonight, try these fast-acting sleep aids:
Journaling or reading
Calm by Natural Vitality
Weighted blankets and other sleep gadgets
A sleep cocktail concoction of L-Theanine, Camomile, and Magnesium Threonate
The Military Method
It’s not news that we are becoming more sedentary as a species. We can thank the structure and pace of modern life for influencing sedentariness the most.
The post-industrial age gave us conveniences like cars, TV dinners, and white-collar jobs; changes that helped to shift much of our daily activities indoors. Studies by Neil E. Klepeis and others published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that today, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors or in a vehicle. The reality is, modern life trends make it harder and harder to stay physically active.
Today, in the digital age, life runs at an even more dizzying pace and poses new challenges that directly and negatively affect our brain and therefore our mental health. We’re sitting in front of computer screens for hours and there are now more demands on our time, attention, and cognition. All this has the effect of stressing our nervous systems and draining our mental energy. And since the mind and body are connected, our physical energy is being drained along with our mental energy.
Along with sleep and diet, exercise always tops the list of mental health providers’ recommended lifestyle habits. And there are plenty of scientific studies to support the recommendation. A cross-sectional study of 1.2 million people which was published in The Lancet Psychiatry in August 2018 found that, on average, exercisers had 40 percent fewer poor mental health days per month than non-exercisers. In another study by the University of South Australia, researchers found exercise to be 1.5 times more effective than counseling or leading medications in managing depression.
"Your mental and physical health are inseparable. You cannot work to strengthen one without having a positive effect on the other." Napoleon Hill
Therapeutic benefits of exercise
Despite the busyness of our lives, fitting in exercise is possible when we take a strategic look at our responsibilities and schedules and re-work them. I hope this list of benefits inspires you to do that.
Exercise releases norepinephrine, which improves your motivation.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is released when you exercise, which protects and repairs the brain from degeneration.
Dopamine is released, which improves motivation and learning.
The hippocampus, a part of the brain concerned with learning and memory, grows in size with regular exercise.
Endorphins are produced when you exercise, which can reduce the sensation of pain.
Serotonin is released, which can improve mood, sleep, and more.
Blood flow to the brain increases, delivering more oxygen and nutrients.
Exercises for specific mental gains
Strategies to stay physically active 🛠️
1. Move naturally
Move more by building physical activity into your life, not just leave it for the gym. Here are some examples of how you could build one habit—walking—into your life and everyday routines.
a) Instead of sitting, walk as you take some of your long phone calls
b) Routinely walk after meals
c) Do weekend hikes/meditative walks
d) Do annual charity walks
e) Take the stairs whenever you can
f) Walk or exercise as part of a morning routine
g) Use walking to clear your head
h) Make walking part of your mental health plan
i) Combine walking with another activity, such as learning a language or listening to your podcasts
2. Add fun to the mix
Do this by making at least one of the physical activities you do something that you truly enjoy!
a) Take dance classes if you love music and have fun dancing.
b) Check out VR sports if you like the metaverse or get bored easily.
c) Join a local softball team or cycling group if you enjoy working out with others.
3. Make it easy to do
Using a gym when traveling or when the weather is lousy is for many of us, the easiest way to get in some physical activity during those occasions. Think of other ways to automate and make it easy for you to stay active. For example...
a) Store your bicycle by the door.
b) Exercise at the same time.
c) Exercise as part of a routine.
d) Keep flats in your handbag or car.
e) Put a TV in front of your exercise equipment.
4. Make exercise a daily habit
This helps you avoid the friction that comes from skipping a day. Tracking your steps with a Fitbit or app is a daily exercise habit to consider as it’s super convenient to do. Keep your daily goal very doable—one mile, half a mile, or 1,500 steps, for example.
And build a routine like this one around it:
1) Start your day by meeting half of your goal.
2) Check your step count twice throughout the day.
3) By the time you do your second check-in, you should be so close to your goal that you WANT to reach it!
The beauty of “food as medicine” is that the choice to heal and promote health can begin as soon as the next meal. Unknown
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders established a link between the American diet and depression. Additionally, many experts in the field of psychonutrition, including Dr. Felice Jacka, Julia Ross, Jason Pawloski, and Dr. Uma Naidoo, who have devoted their careers to researching the topic, agree there’s a link between diet and mental health.
Research from nutritional psychology shows that what we eat matters—our brains function better on foods that are psychologically protective, such as those high in Omega-3 and amino acids. Once you start eating genius foods (foods your brain loves), you take another positive step in keeping mental health symptoms low and manageable.
Therapeutic benefits of the anti-inflammatory diet
The Mediterranean diet is widely recommended by health experts, however, for the management of mental health disorders, I recommend the more restrictive version of it, the anti-inflammatory diet. The anti-inflammatory diet which is made up of low-sugar unprocessed foods, plenty of vegetables, whole grains, and Omega-3 fatty acids, is shown to minimize gastrointestinal complaints from food allergies and intolerances such as gluten sensitivity.
As there is a clear link between the gut and the brain, I suggest making food choices that lead to the least gastrointestinal complaints and that supports optimal gut health.
Strategies to help you gradually eat better 🛠️
Like so many things, eating well is a mindset...a decision. If you make the decision that you want to look and feel as good as you can and acknowledge food’s role in that, you’ll free your mind to do what it takes. Having a strategy helps. The one I rely on, and which DIYers can easily follow, is the gradual approach to eating better. With this strategy, you make small tweaks like these one after the other and focus on slow gradual changes. The gradual approach is more sustainable than elaborate diet overhauls.
Choose the best diet and eating approaches for YOU
In conjunction with the anti-inflammatory diet, I have found intermittent fasting and paying attention to fodmaps and food combinations helpful to some people.
Eat real foods preferably ones that are in season
They usually taste better, have more health benefits, is more environmentally sustainable and better for the planet.
Make it more convenient to cook your own meals
With time-saving cooking techniques and gadgets like slow cookers and blenders, access to tasty 30-minute-or-less recipes, and lifestyle habits like meal prep and food freezing, you can make it just as convenient (even more convenient) to cook your own meals.
Identify 5-6 of your favorite herbs and spices
Use them when cooking to perk up your dishes and improve your culinary game. Consider turmeric, sage, ginger, basil, and lemon, which are all thought to be good for your mental health.
Change your environment to make healthy eating easier for you
Leave junk food on the supermarket shelves and keep delicious snacks like nuts on hand instead. And set up your kitchen to be functional so that cooking and eating are pleasant experiences.
Influence family members and others you eat with regularly
It will be extremely difficult to go your whole life eating completely different from everyone you sit down to eat with. Eating together is a social experience and you'll not only feel "apart" from the group but also tempted to eat whatever junk your family and friends eat if you don't close the gap and bring many of them over to your side. Cook for them and show them how tasty the healthy alternative to their food favorites such as Tacos, pizzas, and desserts can be.
Smarten up about nutrition
By following nutritionists like McKel Kooienga (nutritionstripped) on Instagram and by reading books like Eat Your Vitamins by Masha Davis. Expert resources can help strengthen your Why and over time, guide you along the path to making better and better choices.
There’s a saying that perfectly captures the link between light exposure and mental health.
The saying, “Daylight heals and night light steals” means what you probably think it does: Daylight generally has a healing effect on the brain and is good for our health. At night, our overuse of electric lights has a negative effect on it. A cross-sectional analysis of some 87,000 people conducted by Monarch University found that we’re not getting enough light during the day and we’re getting too much of it at night. This combination of behaviors can put us out of sync with nature and raise the risk of a circadian rhythm imbalance, i.e., sleep problems. For positive mental health, we need a healthy interplay of light and darkness.
"The light is coming to give back everything the darkness stole." Ariana Grande
Therapeutic benefits of light exposure
Sunlight improves cognitive performance and helps to release brain chemicals that alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety and help us sleep better at night. Something else that helps us sleep better at night is dimmed lights which help our bodies produce melatonin. High amounts of light at night have been linked to a higher risk of generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, self-harm, and psychosis.
Strategies to let the right light in 🛠️
Something that’s important to note here is that too much or too little light exposure can spell problems for our mental health. To get in your recommended daily 15 minutes of daylight, you don’t need to complicate how to fit it in or overdo it. There are many rich and beautiful ways to bring light therapy into your life. The best tip I can offer anyone to help them meet their light exposure needs is this: Plan great things to do outdoors and use more light features indoors.
In the Vurb Wellness Mental Health Club, we create unique daily self-care activities to help members practice the therapeutic lifestyle from home. The strategies I share here are similar to the self-care activities we design for members every month. These highlight the simple ways you can get your light exposure needs met during the day and in the evenings.
Open windows when you wake up
Take a sunrise hike to the most beautiful vista near you
Go on a half-mile “photo safari”
Eat your lunch outside today
Do your skincare routine by candlelight.
Put up a string of Xmas lights or another light feature in your home.
Listen to this month’s playlist under the stars.
Sleep in a tent in the backyard.
Sip a glass of wine while using your light therapy lamp.
With just a few simple tweaks to our daily habits, we can return to a healthy pattern of synching up with nature and reap the benefits of light exposure on our mental health.
For mental fitness, we all need healthy doses of social support. Because guess what? The brain thrives on connection!
There are four main types of social support: 1) emotional support, which includes affirmations of our worth and concern about our feelings; 2) informational support, which involves sharing advice, information, or experiences; 3) tangible support, which includes sharing material and financial resources; and 4) belonging support, which involves spending time together and belonging to a larger community. In order to thrive, we need to get the levels of social support we need.
Therapeutic benefits of social support
When you get your social support needs met, the impact on your brain and life is positive and numerous. Getting adequate social support helps to reduce stress, regulate emotions, increase resilience, and boost motivation and self-esteem. Social support also improves cognitive functioning and is linked to better physical and mental health and better response to trauma.
It is common for trauma to damage our ability to have healthy relationships. If you’re a trauma survivor, you may find it difficult to communicate your needs, advocate for yourself, and express negative emotions appropriately. And it would makes sense that you prefer being alone or think of yourself as a loner.
More often than not, taking on the loner label is an attempt to protect ourselves. It is not what a healthy mind or your authentic self would want so I encourage you to do this work if your confidence or social skills could use a boost. If there’s one thing experience has taught me, which I hope you can experience for yourself too, is that one of the most healing places for trauma survivors is inside a healthy supportive relationship.
Spend time with people who are generally optimistic; they’re better for your mental health.
Strategies to boost social skills 🛠️
Putting yourself out there is not easy for anyone, yet, putting yourself out there may be necessary for your mental health. Some avenues for overcoming social hang-ups include the following strategies to build your social circle and social skills. As with any strategy you use—whether it’s to help you eat better or to put yourself out there socially—they must feel comfortable for YOU.
Remember, you don’t need to be the most outgoing person to model healthy social behavior.
Work on shyness and social awkwardness. A therapist or a relationship, emotional health, or confidence coach can help here.
Build your tribe! Many adults feel embarrassed to make the first move. Get on committees, get into their DMs, and take other initiatives where the rejection risks are lower.
Find your tribe through your hobbies. If your tribe likes card games or cosplay, and you were to meet just once a month, this too would count as social support!
Do more interesting stuff to give yourself content for better conversations.
Develop your small talk skills. Anyone can learn to develop their small talk skills. Yes, anyone! Again, a confidence coach can help you here as well as books like Patrick King’s The Art of Witty Banter.
Use community-based activities such as Toastmasters and acting and improv classes to help you “think on your feet” and develop your social skills.
Share family-time. If you’re like many people, not having enough time is standing in your way of making social connections. Solve this dilemma by planning family events such as cookouts and birthday parties in your backyard or in public spaces where you feel comfortable inviting contacts from work or your yoga class.
Lose the chip on the shoulder. We all prefer to be around people who are chill and generally positive. Be that!
Rumination, the tendency to chew on, brood about, and obsess over a stressful situation or problem in a repetitive manner, is normal if it only happens from time to time. However, it can become a problem if you’re doing it often.
At its core, rumination is a coping mechanism that we turn to when we are in a bad mood. It’s the mind’s way of trying to fix things for us and help us feel OK. The problem is, we’re not really problem-solving…and we remain not OK when we ruminate.
"You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you." Dan Millman
Therapeutic benefits of anti-rumination strategies
Anti-rumination strategies such as meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, breathing exercises, and engaging in creative pursuits work by redirecting your thoughts away from unnecessary negativity. Using CBT and anti-rumination strategies regularly can create positive neuroplastic changes in the brain. They activate the prefrontal cortex and reduce amygdala hyperactivity which can lead to panic attacks, difficulty concentrating and sleeping. They can do more than improve your mood in the moment. WIth continued use, anti-rumination strategies can increase your resilience, self-compassion, and baseline happiness.
Strategies to get you out of your head 🛠️
As anyone with a rumination habit knows, the cure for intrusive thoughts and overthinking isn’t willing yourself to “Think positive!” The best way to stop ruminating (or to ruminate less) is to disrupt your negative thoughts with a prompt or action such as getting up and moving or pulling out one of your anti-rumination strategies. There are literally hundreds of anti-rumination strategies for you to choose from. The best ones for YOU are those you field-test and know will work for you. Experiment with a few and keep a variety of them in your back pocket to give yourself options when you need them as not all strategies will work for every mood or trigger.
Also, keep in mind that it can take a little while before you become adept at switching off these runaway thoughts. With repeated effort, however, you will shorten the time it takes for you to shut down those thoughts. Something else to keep in mind is that rumination is a learned habit and as such, it CAN be unlearned.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Play the Script Until the End
Cognitive Defusion Technique
Change your location
Go outside for a walk or run
Come up with a list of 3 things that are going right in your life
Get creative on your phone with an app like Design Home
Call someone who uplifts you
Repeat your favorite mantra or affirmation a few times...slowly
Listen to your favorite podcast
Brainstorm to problem-solve
Schedule ‘worrying” for later or another day
Set a 15-minute timer and stop ruminating when the time is up
Organize a cupboard or shelf
Use a CBT deck
Learn something new in 5 minutes; for example how to pronounce “Comme des Garçons” or make origami
Our perpetual busyness is making us loopy and nowhere is this more obvious than in our work life.
In response to the productivity demands of our jobs, almost all of us do something that study after study has shown doesn’t work well: we multitask. Multitasking has its benefits and life would be impossibly hard without it, but there are limits to the benefits and many disadvantages when you overuse it as we’ve become wired to do.
Multitasking is stressful and slows down our brains, making us less productive. For example, when we task switch, it takes extra time for the brain to fully switch attention and cognition. Multitasking also makes us less effective as it keeps us from shining and doing deep work. Deep work which allows us to focus without distraction is shown to produce better results in less time and leads to greater rewards, self-esteem, and career advancement...all things that are good for our mental health and well-being.
"Mindfulness is a mental activity that in due course eliminates all suffering." Ayya Khema
Therapeutic benefits of mindfulness
The benefits of mindfulness are both well-established and wide-ranging. Mindful habits such as active listening can improve our relationships with others. It can also improve attention and focus, making it helpful for individuals with ADHD. Practicing mindfulness on and off the mat can help to heal our nervous systems, restore our ability to focus, improve creativity and executive functioning, and according to one study, increase our resilience to stress by 40 percent.
Strategies to Hack Mindfulness 🛠️
It’s important that we find a healthy balance between being busy and being productive, as well as between work and leisure. Some ways we can do this are by silencing notifications, using time-saving routines, and taking regular (better yet, scheduled) breaks during the workday. Practicing mindfulness at work can improve your productivity without sacrificing your sanity.
You may not be able to cut out multitasking altogether, nor would you ever want to, but there are ways to train yourself to be more present when it matters. A simple way to retrain yourself is to practice being mindful while doing everyday home-based tasks such as those shared below. Next, bring it work and apply it to a single work activity you routinely do, such as reading emails.
Your ability to be more present at work will be honed by a combination of practicing at work and at home. Start with low-hanging fruits like showering as they are easy to remember to do. With practice, mindfulness changes you AND your behaviors.
Everyday tasks to practice being present...
doing your skincare routine
spending time with kids
doing something creative like arranging flowers
All living beings are wired to want to survive. But for us humans, life means more than mere survival.
Built into our DNA is a desire to matter, to be all we can be, and to be remembered when our life is no more. Let’s just say we have egos...and a healthy ego is a good thing. People with mental health disorders are often missing a sense of purpose and without one, find themselves faced with an existential crisis where a perpetual sense of dread and listlessness can present.
The fact is, we all feel more grounded and connected when we can articulate our own individual purpose in life. Feeling rudderless can negatively impact your self-esteem and cause you to withdraw. For many people, a lack of purpose leads to stress, fear of the future, a general unease with life, and a lot of internal noise. But the absolute worst part of not having a purpose is that it dims our inner light and our capacity for hope and positivity.
Therapeutic benefits of having a purpose
According to research, individuals who have a strong sense of purpose and meaning in their lives tend to have better mental health. They’re deeply connected to their true selves, sleep better, have lower stress levels, and have better cognitive functioning. Having a purpose gives us drive and a general enthusiasm for life. Having a purpose is to have a North Star—an inner GPS or something to work toward. Having one can add weight and significance to even the mundane tasks we do day in and day out. It can also minimize boredom— the gateway to brooding, laziness, and other bad mental habits.
"The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for." Dostoyevsky
The investment manager Stephen Duneier manages billions of dollars of portfolio assets in his day job, but he's best known for his yarnbombing art, a “passion” he developed after picking it up as part of his resolution to learn 12 new skills in 2012. He’s still at it today, only, it has become a mission for him. Duneier creates large-scale installation yarnbombing art in the mountains of Santa Barbara, California, and according to his website, he’s on a “mission to bring people back to nature while building a global community of kind and creative people."
Duneier’s story illustrates one of the best ways for anyone to find their purpose—by pursuing heartfelt goals like he did. His story also illustrates that our purpose doesn’t have to be a super serious “cure-for-cancer” goal. Your purpose doesn’t need to be a making-money pursuit either. You can also have several purposes (or passions) at once and have many purposes throughout your lifetime.
The type of purpose that is most likely to improve mental health are those that change the lives of other people or a single person in your life, such as the purpose to be a "great parent."
Strategies to Help You Find a Purpose 🛠️
Don’t know where to start your search for a purpose? Try these suggestions:
Imagine your best possible self and the skills you might need. If they include, for example, public speaking and the art of storytelling, learn those.
Learn something new by setting goals the way Duneier did. Learn to code, learn the history of fashion, a new language, etc.
Identify the causes you care about and how you would like to support them.
Start with your values. Identify your top three values and think of ways to express and experience them.
Try volunteer work; it can be a great way to gain experience, meet leaders in your community, and do some good.
Work on your inner self. By working on your healing or personal growth.
Read biographies of people who fascinate or inspire you.
Develop your strengths by working to get better at what you’re naturally good at.
What we are seeing, hearing, and experiencing at any moment is changing not only our mood, but how our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working.
A 2019 study found that our zip codes can predict health outcomes like obesity and mental illness better than our genes. And in cities across the United States, certain neighborhoods have a life expectancy 10-30 years shorter than neighborhoods just a few miles away. Environmental factors, such as noise and air pollution, and lack of green spaces increases the risk of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress.
Our environment, in the context of mental health, extends beyond the trees and the natural world. It includes the homes we live in, the people we share our homes with, where we work, the company culture, and the many ways work impacts our health. It includes even the policies and rules that govern our lives, as well as technology.
Therapeutic benefits of environmental wellness
Some of the therapeutic benefits of environmental wellness include:
Increased productivity, creativity, and focus.
Deeper workplace engagement, employee satisfaction, loyalty, and retention.
Improved physical health by enhancing air quality, and promoting ergonomics.
Reduced stress which leads to less anxiety and depression, and improved cognition.
Greater self-esteem as our surroundings, much like our wardrobe, is a reflection of us.
Strategies for improving your environments 🛠️
It will be easier to do certain things right away, such as zenifying your home, than to do others, such as quitting your job or relocating, but I want to bring your awareness to the broad and significant ways in which your environment could be impacting your mental health just the same. I also want to encourage you to start paying attention to how you feel in different environments, situations, and social groups and let your intuition guide your response.
Become aware of how the world around you affects you. For example, how the news affects you. As I write this, there are wars raging in Israel and in the Ukraine. I know myself well enough not to click on these news stories and to instead, try to keep hope in my heart for everyone involved. Over the years, I’ve developed strict “stay-focus” rules for when I’m working that usually tamper my ADHD inclinations. Another area of environmental wellness that I find it helpful to be conscientious about is my technology use. With its high potential for addiction, you want to monitor your technology use as too much time online can be harmful to adults and young people with mental health disorders.
A. Zenify Your Home
We can do things to adjust for what’s missing in our environment and to make conditions more agreeable to our well-being. I suggest starting in your home with ideas like these.
Flip through decorating magazines and TV shows for furniture arrangement inspiration.
Adopt routines and systems for keeping clutter under control.
Decorate with plants and flowers.
Do what you can to lessen outside noise that intrudes on your peace.
Install a water feature; even the simplest ones can have a soothing effect on your home.
Set up cozy corners and nooks decked out with a snuggly blanket and a couple of self-care “treats.”
Add natural elements such as wood, rocks, bamboo, and leather to your decor.
Adjust for urban “noise” with Zen practices such as less TV and more candlelight and board games in the evenings.
B. Sanify Your Workplace
Is your Job Toxic To Your Mental Health? You might be among the nearly 60% of US workers who find their job or workplace stressful. Alleviating some of that stress is directly within your control. Other things might require buy-in from your boss and co-workers. And there will be things that are just outside anyone’s control that you’ll have to decide how you’re going to handle— whether by changing your perspective or the situation itself. Let these suggestions get you started in formulating strategies and tools for making work less stressful.
Strategies to make work work better for you
Develop work relationships by enjoying coffee breaks and social time with co-workers.
Get a mentor or identify the “smart people” you can tap when you need help to brainstorm and move challenging projects along.
Make your workspace stimulating with quotes, inspiring photos, and soothing music.
Don’t just work hard, be intelligently focused.
Take control of your email. Decide when and how often to check email, and how you manage and file messages after reading.
Set aside Makers’ time to do focused work.
Don’t use the “I hate my job” excuse to slack off; doing the bare minimum can be just as bad for your mental health as overworking.
Work with co-workers to make the office healthier with the choice of office snacks and their commitment to “walking meetings” when feasible.
Thriving with Anxiety: 9 Tools to Make Your Anxiety Work for You by David H. Rosmarin
The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs by Stephen Ilardi
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey
Eat Your Vitamins by Mascha Davis
Anti-Inflammatory Cookbook for Beginners by Rosa Barker
The Art of Witty Banter: Be Clever, Quick, & Magnetic by Patrick King
The Six Conversations: Pathways to Connecting in an Age of Isolation and Incivility by Heather Holleman
Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
Pocket Therapy for Anxiety by Edmund Bourne
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine Aron, Ph.D.
Finding Your Purpose: Living 'On Purpose' Rather Than On Accident by Lynda Sunshine West
The Happy Inbox by Maura Nevel Thomas
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Making lifestyle changes takes multiple steps and is influenced by various factors such as your available resources, your level of executive functioning, and how many other things you’re juggling.
They take time and there are no magic or universal number of “hits” to establish a new habit, no matter what you’ve heard.
One of the keys to change, that as a coach I always lean into, is personalization. I recommend that you do as well. For the best outcomes, it helps to personalize whatever you do according to your schedule, resources, etc. For each of the nine lifestyle changes, I shared a few strategies and did so to provide inspiration for when you work to personalize your own path to mental fitness.
So, where do you go from here? I highly recommend you start by taking up mindfulness meditation. It improves executive function and self-awareness—two important skills that we all need for doing work of an emotional nature and when the journey will take time.
1. Start by working on a habit you were already working on and try to level up. This should get you a quick win and might lead you to what to work on next.
2. Start with the lifestyle change that would most benefit your life right now.
3. Read a couple of the recommended books.
4. Put together a support team which might include a therapist, a walking group, and a sibling or parent.
5. If #4 is not possible for you, join the Vurb Wellness Mental Health Club with the special offer on the next page. Your membership covers these services and more:
➜ Mindfulness meditation and Brain Rewirement classes
➜ Streamed music therapy sessions and relaxation exercises
➜ Daily self-paced self-care assignments
➜ Nutritional support via video clips and blog posts.
➜ Weekly “joy commitments” and Daily self-care
➜ Challenges ranging from bedtime makeovers to sugar detoxes
➜ Weekly group check-ins on WhatsApp
Many years of research and hands-on training went into putting together this e-book and my new mental health gym, a platform to make the changes I cover in the book. I've been helping clients with some version of this program for over 12 years now and the response to it just gets better. And it all started with Dr. Ilardi's Depression"Cure". I've always preferred Dr. Ilardi's set of tools - which are streamlined yet remain effective. I want to acknowledge how much of an inspiration his work has been in helping me put together the Vurb Wellness Lifestyle For Mental Fitness.