Six Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Mental and Physical Health

By Dr. Ashley Overley, CEO, Eskenazi Health Midtown Community Mental Health

Seventy years ago, Mental Health America designated May as Mental Health Month. During those 70 years of raising awareness, we have learned a great deal about the connection between mental and physical health.  

A healthy lifestyle can help prevent mental health conditions, as well as chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. A healthy lifestyle can also help people recover from these conditions. 

Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy, but it can be achieved by making small changes and building on those successes. 

These six suggestions can help you and your family members improve both mental and physical health:

  1. Find a reason to laugh.  Laughing decreases your levels of stress hormones. Your heart, lungs and muscles are stimulated; endorphins – the body’s natural pain blockers – are released; and activity increases in parts of the brain’s reward system.

  2. Enjoy physical activity.  Adolescents who participate in sports have lower odds of suffering from depression or thinking about suicide, particularly when the sports increase their self-esteem and social support systems. For adults, physical activity can be as simple as a walk, run or bike ride.

  3. Spend time enjoying nature. People who do things in nature have better perceptions of their own emotional well-being. Vacations, even short ones, help.

  4. Spend time with animals. The company of animals – whether as pets or service animals – can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to recover from illnesses.  A pet can be a source of comfort and help us live mentally healthier lives.

  5. Spend time with people. Being lonely can cause the same amount of damage to your lifespan as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s more dangerous to your health than obesity. Having a strong social support system improves your ability to bounce back from stress. If you don’t have a network of friends, think about volunteering, taking a class or joining a recreation program.

  6. Maintain a healthy work-life balance. Poor work-life balance increases your risk for mental health problems and sleep issues. This is especially true for people who work longer shifts or on nights or weekends. People who feel they have a good work-life balance are more satisfied with their job and their life, and they experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

If you are taking steps to care for your mind, body and soul, but you are still struggling with your own mental health, please seek help. Mental illnesses are common and real, but they are also treatable.

Eskenazi Health Midtown Community Mental Health, Indiana’s first community mental health system, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this May. Eskenazi Health Midtown provides a full range of mental health services for all ages including: consultation, education, outpatient services, addiction treatment, hospitalization and 24/7 emergency services.  To contact Eskenazi Health Midtown, please call 317.880.8491 or visit

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