How are lifestyle and health related?

The way people live, their habits and behaviours, affects mental and physical health. Unfortunately, many people only seriously examine their lifestyle when they fall ill. Becoming ill or injured can seriously disrupt life, restricting daily activities and affecting work, relationships and leisure. Some lifestyle factors can add to this already stressful situation by hindering recovery or, worse still, increasing symptoms.

Lifestyle factors related to health include:

  • Negative thinking and worrying
  • Stress and tension
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Social Support

Below are some suggestions for improving these areas to promote better health.

How can I reduce negative thoughts and worrying?

People who constantly worry and think negatively tend to have high levels of anxiety and tension. This can harm their physical health and complicate a medical condition. Trying to stop worrying can seem impossible, but there are ways that have been shown to work:

  • When you find yourself worrying, write down your concerns and their possible negative and positive outcomes, no matter how likely or unlikely.
  • Then, focus on the good points. Remind yourself that you may not like any of the outcomes, but you can and will be able to cope.
  • If writing down outcomes is hard because you lack information, find out more by contacting recognised sources, such as medical specialists.
  • Try to develop other areas to think about. Enlist your friends to help you do this and take up new activities where possible, such as reading, walking or watching movies.

How can I reduce stress and tension?

Stress and tension can lead to aches and pains, ranging from mild headaches or a stiff back to chronic migraines and muscle spasms. Reducing stress is not easy but these tips should help.

  • Recognise when you are stressed and try to identify what body area is most tense.
  • Practice slow and deep breathing regularly, particularly when you are beginning to feel tense.
  • Relax by visualising pleasant things, such as beautiful scenery and happy past events, or listen to calming music.
  • Learn progressive muscle relaxation, which involves contracting and relaxing all the muscles in your body to induce a strong feeling of physical relaxation. It is generally best to see your psychologist for initial training.

How can I improve my diet, exercise and sleep?

Diet, exercise and sleep are the three lifestyle factors that most often add to medical problems. Symptoms and treatments can adversely affect appetite, energy levels and sleeping patterns. When coping with medical conditions it is important to:

Eat well

  • Eat regularly and choose nutritious foods that you enjoy.
  • If you don’t feel like eating, continue to nibble at foods you can tolerate.
  • If your diet is restricted, discard non-diet foods to remove temptation.
  • If possible, tell family and friends about your diet to gain their support.

Exercise regularly

  • Keeping active is essential for preventing injury and promoting health.
  • If your medical condition prevents you from doing your preferred exercises, it is vital to learn other exercises and do them regularly. See your medical specialist for advice. 

Sleep well

  • Having regular, quality sleep is critical when you have a medical condition.
  • Sleeping well is promoted by minimising naps during the day, avoiding stimulants such as tea and coffee from mid-afternoon onwards, and exercising to physically tire your body.

What role does social support play?

Having a medical condition is often a stressful, frustrating and lonely experience. Feeling sick reduces motivation and opportunities to make social contact, especially if you are unable to work or attend social activities. Social support is vital to maintaining your quality of life, and there are ways to cultivate it.

Getting the social support you need

  • Write down a list of your friends and contact some to suggest catching up.
  • Tell them about your situation and offer hints on how they can best support you. If you don’t tell them how to support you appropriately, then they’ll never know!
  • Keep regular schedules of contact throughout the week. Book regular lunches, coffees etc. Plan ahead to avoid unpleasant isolating gaps through the week.
  • If your available social support is inadequate, consider making new friends through support groups, hobby and interest groups, and volunteering.

Who can help?

The APS Find a Psychologist Service can help you find an APS psychologist with experience in treating and managing lifestyle factors and medical conditions.