Do your mental health habits tell an epic love story or a cautionary horror tale?

Posted by Al Boyle
On August 27, 2023

“Don’t worry, about a thing

‘Cause every little thing, gonna be alright”

“Three Little Birds”

Bob Marley & The Wailers

Exodus (1977)

I value my mental health, and a little reggae goes a long way toward brightening my day. Do I listen to it much? No, and I don’t know why: It transports me to a happy place every time.

So much of it stems from hearing reggae bands play on cruise decks. We’ve cruised about a dozen times, and we look forward to more. Why?

We find there’s nothing like being near the sea, much less at sea. You leave your walking life and your troubles onshore. Onboard the ship, you can indulge your whims, whether you’re swimming, gambling, attending shows, scaling the rock climbing wall, or many other possibilities.

I tell people who’ve never taken a cruise that if you’re bored, it’s not the cruise line’s fault. Their onboard activities alone can wear you out will keep you engaged from sunrise until well into the wee hours.

I’m grateful for my cruise experiences because sometimes the voice in my head sounds like Peach crying out in Finding Nemo: “Find a happy place! Find a happy place! Find a happy place!”

Abundance of activities aside, I’ve spent time every cruise just being alone with my thoughts: Thinking about the future, planning, dreaming… and feeling grateful to be able to slow down and enjoy what we’ve worked so hard to earn.

Even when I’m living my day-to-day life, “being present” goes a long way toward managing stress and improving your mental health. And there are several ways to do it.

Get moving

“A left, a left, a left-right-left.”

Sergeant Hulka, marching his motley band of Army recruits

Stripes (1981)

One of my favorite ways to “reboot” my mindset and improve my outlook is to break a sweat.

It can be as basic as taking a walk. With that small change of scenery, my troubles seem more manageable. It’s even more effective when I surround myself with nature in the woods.

Given how little concentration walking requires, I can let my mind wander while I take in my surroundings (Squirrel!) or listen to a podcast. Even a 10-minute walk can make a difference.

If I want to push myself, a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout forces me to focus on technique at the exclusion of whatever was occupying my thoughts prior to the workout.

I find it meditative to minimize or eliminate distractions through exercise reps. Whether I’m drilling kicks, hand techniques, or lifting weights, the short- and long-term benefits make it a win-win for my mood and overall health.

Science backs the thinking that engaging in physical activities can:

  • Boost your mood 🌈
  • Reduce the risks of depression 🌧️->🌞
  • Sharpen memory 🧠
  • Enhance sleep quality 🌙

Get moving, and keep moving!

Get social

Not social media social. Real-people-in-person social.

The happiest people I know are also among the busiest from a social standpoint. It’s not just anecdotal either: Isolation is known to have a negative impact on mental health, physical health, and mortality. Studies have observed it in the elderly for decades.

If you want to disrupt the narrative for your advanced years, get involved.

Whether the socializing comes to you or you got to it, we must belong to stay strong.

So, put the “i” in “social” and enjoy some company.

Get wise

Learn, baby, learn! Info inferno! (The Bee Gees wish they wrote that one, and you’d beg me not to sing it.).

Love learning new things and having new experiences? Lean into it.


Forcing your mind and body to adapt to new things – within reason, practical limitations, and safe boundaries – will:

  • Help you stay sharp
  • Give you a greater appreciation for new things, people, and places
  • Contribute to your expanding worldview

The great thing about new experiences is how diverse they can be.

I’ve taken:

  • On-demand classes and webinars to learn SEO, LinkedIn, marketing, and more
  • In-person classes to learn social media strategy and management and martial arts
  • Self-directed training to learn video editing

I also belong to online writing and marketing communities. I co-wrote a copywriting author for the marketing community’s book project.

I’ve found a fantastic time with martial arts over the years. You’re getting to know people with a shared passion, you’re socializing, and you’re growing as a person.

Get sun

Exposure to natural sunlight helps with producing Vitamin D, increasing serotonin levels (think the “happy hormone”), and setting your circadian rhythm. The sooner you get exposure upon rising, the better.

And catching those breathtaking sunsets won’t keep you up: The sunset light exposure is different from its daylight counterpart, with the sunset preparing your body for sleep.

Soak it up!

Get sleep

When my brother was younger, she could sleep through an air raid at a heavy metal rock concert during Mardi Gras.

I envied him.

I went deep on sleep in another edition because that’s how critical proper rest is to overall health. And not just any sleep, but recuperative sleep.

Your brain is your control center, working 24/7 to run the tightest ship possible. Skimp on the shuteye and cellular waste builds up in your body like drive thru wrappers, pizza boxes, and empty beer cans in a frat house.

Set your brain up for smooth sailing with a consistent sleep schedule. Proper rest helps you be at your mental and emotional best.

There are multiple devices on the market to help you determine your sleep’s quality. I have a Fitbit now and an Oura ring on the way. I’ll be comparing the two and posting about in the near future.

Get help

“Do not touch the glass. Do not approach the glass. You pass him nothing but soft paper – no pencils or pens. No staples or paperclips in his paper. Use the sliding food carrier, no exceptions. If he attempts to pass you anything, do not accept it. Do you understand me?”

Doctor Frederick Chilton, instructing FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling on precautions to take with Hannibal Lecter

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Don’t let the Oscar-winning movie fool you: Cannibalistic psychiatrists are one in ten, maybe one in twenty. Personal trainers just chew you up and spit you out. Metaphorically speaking.

Whichever path you take, the investment in yourself can be invaluable.

I used to think I didn’t need a personal trainer because I was fit. It’s taken three back surgeries to convince me I might will benefit from experienced instruction.

It makes so much sense in hindsight: There are technical requirements for strength training just as there are for martial arts, yet I wouldn’t dream of learning a new martial art without an experienced instructor.

I apply the same thinking to mental health.

The stigma associated with therapy inhibits some people. It still inhibits me a bit, though not enough to stop me from talking about it (and now, writing about it).

How did I get here? It was easier than it may sound for me.

My quest to live my best life is more important than someone else’s biases toward mental healthcare. I’ve benefited from counseling, I value my mental health, and I’ll continue to seek care when I need it.

Get on with it

I’m trying to take a proactive approach to my mental health because the rest of my body and my life depend on it. I say’ “trying” because I have my vulnerabilities, too, and I can slip into an unhealthy state of mind.

When I take a step back to assess my situation, I find I’ve neglected some or all of the principles outlined above.

They’re easier fixes than others sometimes. And they’re always worth it. So don’t get discouraged, and if you get discouraged, don’t stay discouraged. You know what you have to do.

So, get on with it. Because you’ve got this.


What keeps you in a good headspace? What brings you back fastest when you discover you’ve slipped?



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