Make a resolution to care for your mental health too

By Dr. Patricia De Marco

New Year's resolutions tend to center around our waistlines. While our physical health is important, this year I hope more of us will resolve to take better care of our mental health too.

Mental health issues can sometimes be easy to conceal, but they have wide-ranging implications for our health.

That is why I hope people consider adopting a few of these mental health resolutions.

1.) I will stop stigmatizing mental illness. Despite great strides in understanding, an unfortunate stigma still exists about mental illness and mental health treatment, particularly for women.

Unrelenting stigma, guilt and unreasonable societal expectations set the stage for conditions to go untreated. New mothers are especially hit hard with the kind of mental health issues that society tends to criticize, leaving them feeling isolated and inadequate.

People experiencing mental illness need to know that they're not alone, that they did nothing to cause their issues and that help is available. I have found that simply knowing those three things goes a long way to lifting the stigma associated with mental illness both for the patient and for those closest to her.

2.) I will get help or encourage my loved one to get help. Mental illness affects roughly 1 of every 4 adults in the United States. Vast hormonal fluctuations throughout our reproductive years impact the way women feel, function and relate to others. A reproductive psychiatrist can help women navigate everything from PMS to mood disorders inherent in menopause. Appropriate therapy, life-style changes and, in some cases, medication can greatly help regulate symptoms.

3.) I will exercise. Study after study finds that physical exercise is associated with improved mental health. Time spent in nature is also curative, so enjoy all the hiking trails and coastlines Orange County has to offer and combine the two!

4.) I won't shut myself off from loved ones. Researchers have long understood that there is a link between social isolation and reduced psychological wellbeing. There is even new evidence that social isolation is associated with shorter life spans.

5.) I will get enough sleep. Several studies have found that getting too little sleep harms the brain's ability to regulate emotions and cope with anxiety. Studies have also found that getting a good night's sleep decreases anxiety and depression. So get your Zzzs!

We all know that doing sit-ups and shunning fries will help get us into physical shape. This year, when we're making our resolutions, it's important to keep our ideal mental "shape" in mind too.

Dr. PATRICIA DE MARCO CENTENO is a psychosomatic psychiatrist and the Hoag Women's Mental Health Program Director