Achieving Better Mental Health in 2012

“Get in shape” or “lose weight” are undeniably the most commonly made New Year’s resolutions, but very few people make it a goal to improve their mental and emotional health each year. According to Dr. Don Stewart, Psy. D., a board certified clinical psychologist in Cocoa Beach, finding happiness and inner peace is perhaps even more feasible than losing that last 10 pounds. With nearly 30 years in practice, the psychologist has a few tried and true tips for achieving better mental health in 2012.

1. Move it (or lose it): Those who want to get in shape or lose weight in the New Year are in luck. Exercise is also a major step toward better mental health   ̶  and the reasons are more scientific than one might think. With constant stimulation and stress from today’s fast-paced world, the human body is in a “state of relative constant arousal,” explained Stewart. Stress floods the blood stream with adrenaline, which causes the organs to work overtime and produces chronic fatigue and achiness. “Exercise helps to reset that balance of arousal so you come back into a normal healing state.”  Bottom line is, said Stewart:  “For mental health, exercise is miraculous.”

3. Create a social network (and not just online):  How can someone have 350 friends on Facebook and still feel lonely? Easy, said Stewart. People still need live social interaction with others in order to feel happiness.  “The need to belong, the need to affiliate, the need to be part of something, is inherent in our DNA. Why? Because it propagates the species,” explained the doc. “Without social involvement, that feeling of malaise, that feeling of alienation, is incredibly prominent. We need people, we need social outlets, we need activities.”

Socializing need not be limited to the romantic sort. It can be as simple as getting involved in the school PTA, calling an old friend, or taking care of a pet.

4.Get out of town: Planning a vacation is a great way to beat the post-holiday blues, but only if it’s within your budget, cautioned Stewart. Otherwise, the resulting credit card bill can cause even greater stress. Any change of scenery, no matter how close to home, can be healthy, said Stewart. “It doesn’t have to be big. Just get in the car… go somewhere different for the weekend, eat some different food, see some different sights and really recharge your batteries.”

Have too much work to do? Too many obligations?  “Those things will never change. There will never be a good time,” advised Stewart. “Life is an incredible challenge and whenever we get the chance to recharge our batteries, we need to take it.”

5.Invest in better sleep habits:  Patients are often a bit bewildered when Stewart asks them their thread count… but the doctor swears by his advice when he tells patients with sleep troubles to invest in 600-, 800- or 1,200- thread-count sheets. Put simply, low thread count sheets are too itchy and the sensory stimulation will inevitably prevent a good night’s sleep.  “The body needs at least three to four 90-minute cycles of uninterrupted sleep each night to recover,” said Stewart. Practicing good “sleep hygiene” is also important. “We eat and drink too much too late at night, stay up too late, get too much stimulus from computer, TV or radio, and don’t slow ourselves down so we can fall into sleep.”

6.Be available to others: According to Dr. Stewart, “The happiest people on the planet are those who have faith and do something of service to others.” Being of service doesn’t have to entail hours and hours of volunteer work, but can be as simple as taking in a neighbor’s garbage can or newspaper, he said. It’s about “coming out of our own shell and being available to others.”

7.Get disciplined: The primary path to better mental health is in one word, believes Stewart:  discipline. “Do not allow yourself to be apathetic or lazy. Being disciplined does not mean you a

re being deprived, it means you’re taking control over the chaos of life. You’re in the driver’s seat, not random events.  Random events happen and they will disturb and distress each and every one of us if we give in to them. Discipline is empowering whereas chaos is incredible disturbing. It cuts across all categories  ̶  physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”


Dr. Don Stewart, Psy. D. can be reached at (321) 784-1888. His practice is located at 1980 N. Atlantic Ave. Suite 501, Cocoa Beach.