Dr. James Bender, DCoE psychologist on December 27, 2011
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Soldiers with the 172nd Infantry Brigade listen to Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta aboard forward operation base Sharana, Afghanistan Dec. 14, 2011. Secretary Panetta thanked each and every soldier and wished them happy holidays and a quick and safe return to the states. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)
Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.
Around the holidays, especially heading into the new year, people tend to reflect on what they’ve accomplished and make resolutions to improve themselves or achieve certain goals. Many people set goals related to physical fitness: lose 10 pounds, bench press 300 pounds, or max out their physical fitness test. These are great goals that are worth pursuing, but what about goals related to improving your mental health? There are things you can do to improve your memory, mood and generally get psychologically fit.
A clear mind can positively affect many parts of your life—both in the military and in civilian life. The following tips can help you achieve your goals of developing a healthier mental state next year:
- Good nutrition is important for your physical AND mental health. There's a lot of evidence showing that omega-3 fatty acids and folate help the brain. Also, adopting a healthy diet in general supplies the brain with the nutrients needed to maintain the many complex chemical reactions the brain executes on a daily basis.
- Aerobic exercise isn’t only good for you physically; it's great for your brain. Evidence shows it can lead to better cognitive performance, decrease age-related cognitive decline and lower stress.
- Get a professional opinion if you’re often feeling depressed, anxious or suspect you may have a psychological health condition. Treating mental health concerns will not only improve your quality of life, it will enhance your physical and mental performance.
- Give your brain a workout. Learning a new language, musical instrument or playing chess are all ways to improve concentration and sharpen the mind.
- Sleep is very important for memory and overall mental health. Your brain functions more efficiently when you get enough sleep.
- Be socially active and foster relationships. This tends to reduce stress, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and provide valuable support when you need it.
By doing these things, you will go a long way toward improving your mental health and being psychologically fit. Find a few additional tips and resources to help you in this Real Warriors Campaign article. Keep in mind improving your mental fitness takes work and an active commitment—prioritize sleep, exercise and nutrition. But like any other worthwhile pursuit, the rewards are worth the effort.
Stay safe and warm. And Happy New Year!