Boost Your Mental Health and Well-being

​Chad Buck, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, at Work/Life Connections-EAP, shares six strategies to boost mood, build resilience, and increase happiness: 1.) Make face-to-face social connections a priority, 2.) Stay active, 3.) Learn to manage stress, 4.) Eat a brain-healthy diet, 5.) Get enough sleep, 6.) Invest in activities that give your life meaning.

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Marissa Wertheimer:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Marissa Wertheimer with Health Plus. Chad Buck, Clinical Psychologist for Work/Life Connections, Vanderbilt’s Employee Assistance Program, shares six strategies to boost mood, build resilience, and increase happiness. Chad, first, what does it mean to be mentally healthy?

Chad Buck, PhD:  Well, first of all, it doesn't mean that you don't have depression or anxiety or anything like that, but what it does mean is what you do have in a positive way that helps to counteract the effects of stressors, the effects of demands on your life that we all have.  It is being psychologically on a good footing, basically.  So, your foundation is strong, and you are able to handle things as they come.

Marissa Wertheimer:  So, today you are going to share six strategies with us to help boost our mental and emotional health.  What are those six strategies?

Chad Buck, PhD:  First, you want to make social connection a priority, especially face-to-face types of interactions.  I think, more and more, we are a society that interacts through text messaging or email or just very indirect ways.  It is important to have face-to-face interactions so you can see the person, feel their presence with you, and to have an interaction with someone who is actually listening.  The act of listening is probably the most important part of the interaction - someone who is sitting with you, and they are not judging you, and they are letting you talk, without trying to problem-solve or talk over you.

Marissa Wertheimer:  Okay.  So, that is one of the strategies - making social connections a priority, and you mentioned especially face-to-face is really important.  What is the second strategy?

Chad Buck, PhD:  Another strategy would be to stay active.  The more active you are, the more likely you are producing endorphins, which release different types of hormones into your body that help you to have more positive emotional experiences.  You are more likely to just be primed for a positive experience by having more exercise and staying active.  Also, it can be a social activity.  So, that is going to take care of the first one and that one as well.

Marissa Wertheimer:  What is some advice you can give for those who don't like to exercise?

Chad Buck, PhD:  Well, it would probably be to just start small,  Just giving yourself small goals that you then can build upon.

Marissa Wertheimer:  What about a third strategy to boost our mental health?

Chad Buck, PhD:  It is really important to try to learn to manage your stress, and that is hard for a lot of us to do because if we knew how to manage it, we wouldn't have stress, pretty much.  So, you have to find things that work for you.  What I say that might work might not necessarily work for another person, so there is going to be sort of a broad array of things that you can choose from.  It could be listening to music.  You also could do some deep-breathing exercises.  One that I use with people that seems to be really effective is to do what I call "four by four breathing."  You inhale through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale through your mouth for a count of four, and then repeat it four times.

Marissa Wertheimer:  I like that.  That is a wonderful way to help manage stress.  So, this next strategy is healthy eating.  So, we know that what we eat and drink can affect the way we think and feel.  What foods should we focus on getting more of, and what are some foods that we should try to eat less of?

Chad Buck, PhD:  In general, you want things that are going to help give you more energy, and that aren't going to pull your energy away.  So, foods that boost your mood would be things like fish, which are high in Omega-3s (that would be like tuna or salmon, the more fatty fishes).  People hear the word "fat," and they freak out, but it is actually a good fat.  Another good fat would be avocados.  A couple of other things would be flax seeds, different types of nuts, or beans.  Some of the things that aren't so great would be, I think, primarily alcohol.  With alcohol, people don't think about it, because they are using it as usually a way to cope or to relax at the end of a hard day, but what you are doing is you are ingesting a depressant.  So, even though you might feel good for a little bit, later on, the effects of that alcohol will depress your mood and your overall functioning.  So, trying to avoid alcohol if you are trying to boost your mood, is pretty key.  Other things, like fried foods, caffeine, or sugary snacks, are other things you might want to consider avoiding.

Marissa Wertheimer:  So, you have given us four excellent strategies.  We have two more.  What is your fifth strategy for boosting mental health?

Chad Buck, PhD:  Sleep is another really key element for boosting your mood and staying resilient.  Ideally, you want to try to hit around eight hours, give or take, but, of course, we cannot always do that.  You do want to try to aim for a regular sleep schedule, and unfortunately, that means not necessarily sleeping late on Saturday and Sunday like we like to.  It means trying to have the same waking time and the same bed time.  You also want to turn off any screens, like your cell phone or tablets, for at least an hour before you are trying to go to sleep, because the light from those screens affects your brain and your ability to calm yourself.  You also would want to try some of the deep breathing, like maybe that breathing exercise I mentioned earlier, or trying to just sort of be in your body and be on the bed and trying to rest, rather than thinking about the day and what is going to happen tomorrow.  If that is going on, write the things down that you are thinking about, so you've got them and you don't have to keep worrying.  That is a way you can maybe shut down enough to be able to go to sleep.

Marissa Wertheimer:  Great.  Those are excellent tips for getting better sleep.  Now, on to your sixth strategy for boosting mental health.

Chad Buck, PhD:  One of the most important parts of it would be to find meaning in what you do and enjoy your life.  So, we usually pick jobs that are things that we find important or that we think will make a difference, and the thing is - even if you are working with numbers, you are making a difference for people.  You are helping people who are maybe afraid of working with numbers, or don't want to, but you are also helping them feel more stable and secure.  So, it is not so much about having to be in a helping profession or doing something that is very direct with people.  It is more about something that you value, that you enjoy, and something that you think makes some sort of difference in the world.  Another example would be to volunteer, get involved with charity work, or join some clubs.

Marissa Wertheimer:  So, to recap, the six strategies to boost mood, build resilience, and increase happiness that you gave us were to 1) make social connection a priority, especially face-to-face, 2) stay active, 3) learn to manage stress, 4) eat a brain-healthy diet, 5) get enough sleep, 6) and find activities and work that give your life meaning and purpose.

Thank you so much for sharing these strategies.  Do you have any resources or tools that our listeners can use for more information on mental health?

Chad Buck, PhD:  There are a few things on our website that could be really useful to people.  We have a Resilience Toolkit.  If you go to our homepage, there is a link to the Resilience Toolkit, and it goes over different skills that you can follow that could assist you in kind of meeting some of these suggestions.  Another thing to check out would be our Mindfulness Videos that we have incorporated into our website.  Dr. Linda Manning, from the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt, was kind enough to record three different videos that help with different types of primary skills and mindfulness.  The mindfulness tools are extremely helpful in helping to develop your resilience and improving your mood.

Marissa Wertheimer:  You can find these resources at

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