Physical Health and Personal Growth & Self-Actualization:
5 Core Ways to Improve Physical & Mental Health
Physical health is at the core of personal growth and self-actualization. When we’re not physically well, it’s hard to feel mentally and emotionally well, and very hard to tap into the spiritual side of things and discover self-actualization (or, to reach our full potential). It’s important, therefore, to care for our bodies in order to give us the best shot at personal growth and happiness.
The Mind-Body Connection
Most of us have heard of (and, by now, hopefully, believe in) the mind-body connection. The mind and body are inseparably linked. Our physical health depends as much on our mental/emotional health as our mental health depends on our physical. Physical health, therefore, isn’t just about working out and eating right. Though these are definitely important, physical health requires mental health work too, and vice versa.
Physical Health & Personal Growth: 5 Core Areas
The point of personal growth is simply to do a little bit better each day. And, we can all do a little bit better with our physical health, right? We just need to open ourselves up to self-improvement and assess how we’re already doing. Then, we can set little goals to bring greater physical, and consequently, mental health.
One method I love that helps me assess and improve all areas of my health is the “NURSE” method. I first read about it in Women’s Moods,[i] an excellent book, and have used it personally and with my clients to ensure I cover all aspects of staying healthy. I’ve adapted this method here, along with a few questions to get you thinking. Hopefully, it will inspire you to examine and work your physical and mental health too!
N: Nourishment & Needs
R: Rest & Relaxation
What we eat has a huge impact, not just on our physical state, but on our emotional well-being as well. When we focus on eating for vibrant health—including taking in a variety of fresh, healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, making sure we’re getting the vitamins we need each day, and watching our intake of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine—our bodies feel stronger, we have more energy, and our minds feel healthier too.
What does your diet consist of? Are you focusing on putting foods into your body that create energy and vibrancy? Do you drink enough water? Are you avoiding foods and substances that are addictive, non-nutritious, or that bring you down (at least most of the time?)? If not, can you change just one habit to bring more nourishment into your life?
But beyond what we eat, it’s also important to pay attention to what we need. Every individual has his/her own needs: whereas one needs a daily nap, another needs a daily jog; whereas on needs time to talk with friends, another just needs time alone. Identify what your mind and body need, then make sure you get your needs met.
What are your needs—emotionally, physically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually? Are you working to get your needs met? So much of our physical health depends on meeting our body and mind’s needs. What can you do to better meet yours?
It’s important to have a safe place where you feel supported as you seek understanding about who you are, what you need, and how to progress in your physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual growth. This may include:
- Talking with an understanding support person,
- Writing down your experiences or emotions,
- Using your creativity (such as art, writing, dance, etc) to process emotions and gain understanding,
- Participating in online support forums or social media support pages, or
Your mind and body really are connected. In fact, “your feelings have an anatomy– they are rooted in the brain structures.”[ii] Understanding how your body and mind work, what isn’t working, and ways to make change is key to overall health well-being.
What does your support system look like? Are you utilizing it well? Do you have a safe place to turn when you are seeking understanding? If not, perhaps it’s time to seek one out and start putting it to good use.
Focusing on sleep is crucial to keeping ourselves physically and mentally strong. Sleep is essential to mental health. When we’re sleep-deprived, we simply can’t function well, and sleep deprivation is associated with higher levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and anger, and with poorer coping, memory, learning, and performance. Sleep deprivation is also linked with increased risk of illness, and, if chronic, can lead to major health problems such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Are you getting enough sleep? If not, I suggest you make it a top priority. Take a nap, sleep in on weekends, or at least let yourself lie down and rest more. (Learn More: “Sleep Better, Cope Better: 6 Insomnia Causes & Cures)
It’s not just about sleep, however. It’s just as important to relax and play. Relaxation is the opposite of stress, and stress can really take its toll on the mind and body. In fact, stress underlies a host of health problems and mental health issues too. Make time to slow down, let go, and just relax. You’ll actually work, sleep, and love better if you do!
Do you make time to do activities that relax you? Do you let yourself have “down time” or even “play” time? If not, maybe it’s time to give it a try.
Getting in touch or reconnecting with your spirit is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Those who have a daily spiritual practice feel more peace and connection in their lives, experience less stress, and have a greater sense of purpose and meaning too. Spirituality can include stillness, mindfulness, meditation, prayer, breathing, being in nature, or many other practices. The important thing is to un-plug from the busyness of the world and “tune-in” to the softer whisperings that remind us we are not alone and that we are greater than we believe.
What helps you connect spiritually? Is it meditation, music, nature, family, church, prayer, reading scripture? Whatever it is, if it is lacking in your life, you’ll feel it. Recommit to your spiritual practice and you’ll definitely feel that too.
Exercise is one of the very best things you can do to improve your physical and mental health. Countless studies have shown the benefits of exercise, including cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and stretching. Exercise doesn’t have to be as intense as many people believe. Taking a 10 minute walk twice a day or working in the garden for 20 minutes can count. The important thing is to get your body moving. It’s as vital to your body as nutrients and sleep! (For more, check out: “Get Mentally & Physically FITT”).
Do you make time for exercise? If yes, do you exercise 3 or more days a week? Are you consistent with your exercise habits? Is there anything you would like do improve upon? If no, what’s holding you back? For motivation, read “40 Physical & Mental Health Benefits of Exercise”.
Choose to Be Healthy & Choose to Grow!
The most important thing to remember about physical health is that we need to care the whole body, not just one component. If you find yourself lacking in any of these areas, pick one and start working on it today. Eat a little bit healthier. Go for a walk. Get to bed an hour earlier. Take a nap or read a book while swinging in a hammock. You don’t have to tackle it all at once, but, bit-by-bit, you can improve your physical well-being. And that’s one of the best things you can if you want to progress in your personal growth.
Be sure to check out Dr. Hibbert’s Amazon Bestseller, This is How We Grow–
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[i] Sichel, D. & Driscoll, J.W. (1999). Women’s Moods: What every woman must know about hormones, the brain, and emotional health. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
[ii] Women’s Moods, p. 111.