As the calendar flips to January, many Americans decide to take this opportunity to get fit. As you are sorting through the gym membership specials and healthy recipes, don’t forget an essential part of your body – your mind!

Why should you focus on your mind? Having good mental health allows us to be creative, make the most of opportunities, fight stress, and even helps us stay physically healthy. So how do you go about getting your mind in tip-top shape? Here are some ways.

Exercise.  Physical exercise can help reshape your mind and body at the same time. Exercise improves mental health by reducing depression, anxiety, and negative moods, while increasing a person’s self-esteem, relieving stress, boosting moods, and helping a person sleep better. “ You don’t need to be a fitness fanatic to enjoy the benefits. Just adding a few minutes of exercise a day can produce results,” said Joel Mowrey, PhD, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. “Take a quick walk during your lunch or break time, jog around the field during your child’s sport practice, enroll in a dance or yoga class, or use a fitness video at home,” he added.  “At both work and home, make sure you are taking every opportunity you can to walk or at least stand.”

Relax! Look for a way to unwind and reduce tension. Allow your brain to relax by doing a simple, enjoyable activity such as knitting, coloring, scrapbooking, woodworking, playing an instrument, reading, and gardening. Make a list of activities you enjoy, and carve out 10 minutes each day to doing them.

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means to be in the moment, to be aware of your surroundings, and accept your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. Mindfulness can be achieved through a type of meditation that involves concentration – repeating a phrase or focusing on breathing, while allowing your thoughts to come and go without dwelling on them. You can do this on your own or with the help of a tape. You can even be mindful while walking!

Be careful with social media. Social media, such as Facebook, can be a great method for connecting family members and friends, but too much time spent on social media can also cause anxiety. It may appear that everyone else you know is living an exciting, glamorous life, however, keep in mind that people typically only post about happy times. Spend your time living your life, not lurking through the virtual world.  “Spending time on computers and cell phones is also very isolating and prevents active engagement with others that can be a source of support and fun,” said Dr. Mowrey.

Get plenty of sleep! Handling life’s challenges are more difficult when you are tired. Having low energy can affect your mood and drag you down at work. Realize that sleep is important – the brain and body need time to recharge. The average adult needs between 7.5 – 8 hours of sleep. Establish a night time routine, keep your room cool, comfortable, and dark, and avoid using electronics at bedtime.

Finally, Dr. Mowrey suggests – “Be careful of those New Year resolutions that are easy to make and even easier to forget. Keep your expectations modest and expect relapse as many people set them too high and then give up when they are not met. For example, instead of saying you will lose 10 pounds in a month and exercise every day, focus on trying to exercise 3 to 4 times a week. Also, learn to set limits and say ‘NO’ to people when you already have too much to do.”

For more information on mental health prevention and treatment services, contact the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County at 330-673-1756 or  visit www.mental-health-recovery.org.