10 Things This Functional Medicine Expert Does Daily To Proactively Protect Mental Health
Being wired and tired sucks. In fact, this has become so commonplace in our society that we don't always realize that's how we actually feel. And in my experience, until we hit pause and focus on our mental well-being, the way we feel mentally will start to affect how we feel physically—if it hasn't already.
After starting one of the first telehealth functional medicine clinics in the world over a decade ago, I found myself struggling with this very thing. Stress and anxiety started to creep into my life, and I knew I had to make a change.
As a functional medicine practitioner. I know that mental health is physical health. Being stuck in a chronic state of stress can raise inflammation levels and mess with your gut health, hormones, immune system, brain health, and so much more.
I decided that in order to protect my mental health I had to practice what I teach my patients and implement certain tools in my daily life. Here are a few of the things I now do to proactively protect my own mental well-being:
I prioritize my sleep.
I worked hard to rehab my sleep routine to ensure I get seven (or more) hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. This allows me to show up as my best self for me, my work, and my relationships. I have cultivated a bedtime ritual that works for me and includes meditating for 15 minutes before bed, sleeping with a weighted blanket, and diffusing essential oils like lavender while I sleep.
I limit my sphere of influence.
The biggest thing I have learned over the last year is to not take criticism from someone I wouldn't also take advice from. Even though endless opinions and criticism come with the territory of having a social media platform and working with the public, I try not to take any of it to heart. I only actively listen to critiques from a select few people in my life who are living a life of authenticity that I aspire to.
I do daily breathing exercises.
No matter how proactive I am with protecting my mental health, life happens, and sometimes things come up that are stressful. But instead of letting it take over and ruin my whole day, I use tools like breathing exercises to calm my mind and body to re-center me in the present moment.
When I need a little reset, box breathing is a simple way to practice conscious breathing wherever I am. Simply breathe in for four seconds and out for four seconds, then repeat. (More on the box breathing technique here.)
I take supplements.
Even though food is my foundation, supplements are just another way that I support my mental health on a physiological level from the inside out. I personally take magnesium, specifically magnesium threonate, glycinate, and malate, to support my GABA receptors that regulate sleep and help me get a good night's rest. (Here's a list of mbg's favorite magnesium supplements.)
I also love adaptogens like ashwagandha and holy basil because they help support pathways in my body that lower cortisol and reduce anxiety.
I am conscious about my screen time.
Between internet trolls, mindless scrolling, and blue light exposure, there are many reasons to limit my screen time. I have set hours each day that I look at my phone. Then, I have a time every evening when I turn off my phone and charge it in another area of my house, so I am not tempted to scroll or answer incoming texts.
I embrace JOMO.
FOMO—short for "fear of missing out"—can cause a lot of stress. When I was in the thick of FOMO, I could feel myself reaching burnout because I was saying yes to things I didn't even really want to do in place of rest. Once I decided to prioritize what I needed over what I thought I was missing, I actually enjoyed "missing out." So take a page from my mental health book, and experience JOMO, the joy of missing out, for yourself. (More on JOMO here.)
I spend time in nature.
The Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku or "forest bathing" has been found to support healthy inflammation levels and lower stress. The act of being in nature is a very meditative experience for me, so I try to get out in nature a little bit every day by going on walks with my functional medicine team during lunch and going on longer hikes or sitting on my deck on the weekends.
I make time to be alone.
Relationships with friends and family are scientifically proven to do our hearts and minds good. However, the importance of spending time alone is vastly overlooked. In fact, "alone time" can often be looked at as a negative thing, but there is nothing more powerful than intentionally setting aside time to get to know yourself on a deeper level. After all, how can I enjoy the company of others if I can't even enjoy my own company?
I don't make excuses for toxic people.
Hang out with people who are your future, not your history. It was something that took me a while to learn, but once I came to terms with the fact that not every person is meant to be in your life forever, I was able to say goodbye to people who wanted to hold me back with constant negativity or lack of support.
I take time to shut off from responsibilities.
Although I strive to have a strong work ethic and take pride in the work I do, I am human, not a robot. I can't do my best work if I am working 24/7. By setting aside blocks of time, and even entire days, to rest and not look at my to-do list, I found that I am more excited to tackle my responsibilities and end up getting more done in the long run.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.