Welcome to the Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days challenge! First up, why your emotional health matters — and how to start giving yourself some TLC.
The Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days challenge is the newest challenge from Renew by UnitedHealthcare® to help inspire you to take charge of your well-being every day. All week, we’re sharing fun and easy activities to help you strengthen your body, refresh your spirit and connect with the things you love. After all, when you make your own happiness a priority, it’s a win for your overall health.
When your throat or tooth hurts, you think nothing of calling your provider to get it checked out. But when it comes to your feelings, well, chances are you sweep worries and fears under the rug.
“There continues to be a lot of uneasiness around mental health issues — especially among older adults,” says Kerrie Smedley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Annville, Pennsylvania. “Some people still feel there’s something wrong with them if they speak up about difficulties dealing with loneliness or anxiety. That kind of stigma can make getting help scary. But the truth is you shouldn’t suffer in silence. Working through these kinds of issues is part of the human condition.”
Smedley says that one of the best ways to address your emotional well-being is to start thinking about your emotional well-being. “Give yourself permission to put your mental health first on your list of what’s important to you,” she says. “It’s every bit as important as staying up to date with cancer screenings and regular checkups.”
The body-mind connection
Positive emotions like joy and contentment don’t just feel good, they’re good for your physical health. They flood your body with endorphins, which are hormones that help fight depression, reduce stress and relieve pain, notes the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
On the flip side, negative emotions, including anger, sadness or worry, may actually increase your risk of heart disease, finds a 2018 study published in In Vivo. That’s because those feelings pump your body with a near constant supply of cortisol, the stress hormone. And too much stress can lead to high blood pressure and other heart problems, as well as mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Try a virtual visit for your mental health care
If you’ve been struggling with your emotions, it’s smart to reach out for help. Your UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plan may cover virtual visits with mental health providers. Sign in to your plan website and go to Find Care to search participating virtual providers. Not a member? Learn more here.
A good laugh or talk with a friend can even help boost your immune system, according to reports from the Mayo Clinic. Turns out, a series of bad days and pent-up emotions stir up chemical reactions that create more stress in the body. But laughter and other positive emotions generate a group of compounds called neuropeptides that help your system fight off the damaging effects of stress and illness.
“For all kinds of reasons, prioritizing your mental health is important,” says Smedley.
That’s where today’s challenge comes in. To help you bump your mental health higher up on your list of priorities, start by pondering one question:
What has ignoring my mental health cost me?
Using the Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days Activity Guide, which you can download here, write down your answer. Don’t rush it. Take your time to really dig deep, says Smedley.
For example, maybe anxiety has caused lots of sleepless nights. Maybe anger and resentment have cost you a friendship. Maybe feelings of sadness have taken away the joy that your favorite activities used to bring. Or maybe you’re feeling isolated and alone.
You only need to write a sentence or two — or more if you feel like it. Then read over what you’ve written. Your words will tell you what’s important to you. It might be the peace of mind that comes with letting go of your worries. It might be recovering a relationship that used to be important to you. It might be the joy of being with family or a group of friends you care about.
“Your words will reveal your core values,” says Smedley. “They’ll clearly show you the things that matter most to you. And the act of writing them down will help make this challenge real.”
Remember: It’s important to put your thoughts and feelings in writing. “That makes the process a solid commitment instead of a mental activity,” says Smedley. “Once you put something in writing, it has a lot more power.”
This simple exercise is the first step on your way to making a fresh start. Come back tomorrow, when we’ll add another tool to your happiness kit.
Keep up with the challenge:
Benefits, features and/or devices vary by plan/area. Limitations and exclusions apply. Virtual visits may require a video-enabled smartphone or other device. Not for use in emergencies.