It’s easy to neglect our mental health when there seem to be more pressing health disparities vying for our immediate attention these days. As heart disease, diabetes and cancer are on a rise in the African-American community, we are challenged to adopt better eating habits and make room in our daily lives for physical fitness.

But what about our minds? Daily stressors and anxiety, if gone unchecked, can not only lead to fatigue and depression, but can also begin to affect your physical well-being.
“So many of the illnesses we hear about (in the Black community) have a connection to the stress that people have in their daily lives, and they’re not dealing with it,” says Terrie Williams, motivational speaker and author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting. “When we’re not paying attention to the stress that’s eating us up, it does increase our
chances for developing heart disease, cancer and hypertension.”

Williams, a formal publicist and clinical social worker, suffered from chronic depression most of her adult life, and like most African-Americans, opted to suffer in silence until, out of nowhere, she experienced an emotional breakdown – a three-day episode of insomnia, waking up in the mornings with crippling fear, binge eating and staying in bed for days on end. But she says we can stop the breakdowns before they occur, and in fact, minimize the toll daily stress takes on our minds and bodies if we take our mental health just as serious as our physical health.
Here, Williams suggests some ways to keep your mind just as fit as your body.

Feed Your Mind – Fresh foods provide us with lots of energy. And since the brain is a metabolically charged organ, eating well-balanced meals containing fresh green vegetables and otherenergy producing nutrients is essential. Also high levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to modulate mood, emotion, sleep and appetite, will keep you on the up and up. Consuming turkey, black-eyed peas, whole grains, rice and other dairy products will help.

Retreat to Nature – Try taking a two-mile walk in the park at least once or twice a week. Take in the scenery and enjoy what nature has to offer. Fresh air gives so much positive energy, says Williams. Soft winds, rustling leaves, trickling water and singing birds have a calming effect. If you can’t get away for a long walk, go outside for lunch or sit out on the front porch after a day’s work just to calm your nerves before resuming your afternoon activities.

Get in a Good Laugh – Laughter is a good stress fighter because it reduces the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine and increases health-enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. So curl up in front of the TV and tune in to your favorite movie or sitcom and laugh the night away.  Williams says watching “Martin” reruns always helps her shake off the blues of a stressful day.

Write It Out – Start a journal to record your feelings, thoughts and motivations, and write as often as possible. Freeing your mind of crowded thoughts leaves room to make clear decisions. Putting a pen to paper has proven to be therapeutic, because it provides a vehicle for self-discovery and clarity as it allows you to witness your thoughts and feelings from an external perspective.

Focus Your Posture – It may sound strange, but being in a slumped position sends the message to your body that you are down and blue, not to mention oxygen is being improperly transported to the brain, says Williams. Better posture translates to better breathing, as well as being able to digest food more efficiently. Bad posture leads to poor respiration, poor digestion, which leads to poor chemical, mental, and physical functions. This triad of dysfunction creates a worsened mood.