When it comes to our physical health, our lifestyle choices can play a large role in whether it's good or bad. For example, quitting smoking can improve our lung health, brushing and flossing our teeth goes a long way towards good dental health, and regular exercise can strengthen the heart.
Good habits can also make a big difference when it comes to our mental health, according to psychiatrist Daniel Amen, a best-selling author and one of the founders of The Daniel Plan, a popular, faith-based health and weight loss program.
In his new book, Change Your Brain Every Day: Simple Daily Practices to Strengthen Your Mind, Memory, Moods, Focus, Energy, Habits, and Relationship, Dr. Amen describes dozens of lifestyle choices that can make a major difference in whether we experience either peace or anxiety, joy or depression. Similar to a daily devotional, the book contains a year's worth of wisdom, with something to read each day, a total of 366 entries, to consider Leap Year.
"Brain and mental health, just like spiritual health, is a daily practice," he told CBN News.
How We Got Here
America is facing a mental health crisis unlike anything we've ever seen before. Far too many people struggle with depression, anxiety, and related issues.
Dr. Amen says there are "many reasons things are going the wrong way," largely rooted in modern culture, which he says is "a society that takes God out of schools and businesses and replaces it with idol worship."
To make matters worse, Dr. Amen believes Americans experience never-before-seen stress from hyper-partisan politics, "where people bully each other if they don't have the same beliefs."
Another recent development includes the availability of constant news updates which can be a source of increased stress. "The news is about negativity and frightening people," he said.
Social media sites, another addition to the cultural landscape in the last decade or so, can prove emotionally harmful to adults and children. Dr. Amen explains it's because they "cause them to constantly compare themselves to false images, to other people who are really pretty unhappy, but make themselves seem very happy."
The Right Information
Dr. Amen draws on over 40 years of clinical practice with tens of thousand of patients, to provide the most effective daily habits for good mental health.
"Whenever you go to make a decision, just ask yourself, 'Is this good for my brain, or bad for it?'" he suggests.
Amen says the first step involves taking care of the brain, the organ that regulates our emotions and ideas.
"Focus first on brain health," he said, "Which means you have to eat better, you need to exercise, and you need to not drink, and not do magic mushrooms. You have to keep the physical functioning of your brain healthy and when you do, it's so much easier to be happier."
Dr. Amen said a brain-healthy diet consists of 70% fruits and vegetables and 30% good protein and healthy fat. Some examples are salmon and olive oil. Amen suggests avoiding processed foods and sweets.
"Sugar is the enemy of brain health," he said.
Another way to protect the brain is to keep it from being hit.
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"Mild traumatic brain injury is a major cause of psychiatric problems, and very few people actually know about it," said Dr. Amen. "It's a major cause of depression, panic disorder, suicide, ADHD, and addictions."
Dr. Amen points out an estimated three million Americans suffer mild traumatic brain injuries every year, "from falls, from car accidents, from fights, and there are other professions other than football players that have an increased incidence of brain trauma, especially firefighters," he said. "There's a very high incidence of depression and suicide among firefighters."
Dr. Amen says he treats some of his brain injury patients, like certain football players, with a protocol that includes fish oil, vitamin D and other brain-boosting supplements. The regimen also includes hyperbaric oxygen therapy because "it significantly increases blood flow to the brain," he said.
Controlling Our Thoughts
Putting down our phones and instead, connecting in-person with nature and people can improve mental health. That's easier for some more than others.
"There's actually studies that say people would rather give up sex than their phone," Dr. Amen said. "That's a problem."
Screen management also goes a long way toward another habit that can dramatically improve mental health: getting a good night's sleep.
"If you don't put blue-light blockers on your phone, that blue light coming from your gadgets, your computer, or your phone, actually turns off the production of melatonin and makes sleep much harder," he said.
Instead of letting our thoughts run wild, Dr. Amen recommends steering them in the right direction.
"I start every day with, 'Today is going to be a great day.' I direct my mind to help me, rather than hurt me," he explained. "And at the end of every day I say a prayer, and then go, 'What went well today?'"
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