Stopping to get gas at a convenience store, I realized many of us are killing ourselves with our choices.

The manager of the store, a friend of mine, was sitting on a bench outside taking a break. He was smoking and drinking a gigantic soda. In his early thirties, he weighs somewhere around 450 pounds.

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Surrounded by cigarette butts on the ground, my friend looked desperately tired and sad. I knew he battled depression and had been neglecting his physical health for a long time. He had failed to pay attention to his body, his vehicle for living. He was obese, like thirty-four percent of U.S. adults aged twenty and over.  He was a smoker, like 26.2 million men and 20.9 million women.  He was at risk for diabetes (if not already diagnosed), like 29.1 million Americans, as well as a host of other preventable diseases associated with smoking and obesity. His issues with depression are not uncommon, as depression has increased tenfold in the last fifty years according to Bruce E. Levine, author of Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic.  I couldn’t help wondering how different his life might be, as well as the lives of those around him, if my friend’s health issues had been addressed as a systemic problem. He was caught in a vicious cycle, one malady worsening the other.

The World Health Organization estimates that depression (often associated with stress) affects about 121 million people worldwide. Depression is the second leading cause of workplace disability. Both absenteeism—feeling too low to come into the office—and “presenteeism”—being in the office but too energy-depleted and depressed to accomplish much—take a toll on the workplace. Depression, stress and anxiety disorders are a symptom of many potential causes that should be explored with a qualified health professional.

Although there are many factors that often seem insurmountable, drawing on our strengths is one of the most powerful and motivating tools we have to create a healthier future. Paying attention to and making the most of your strengths is associated with a number of positive health behaviors such as promoting a feeling of well-being, mental health, living an active life, pursuing enjoyable activities, healthy eating, and physical fitness.  While the strength of self-regulation had the highest associations overall in a recent study, the strengths of curiosity, appreciation of beauty, excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and zest also displayed strong connections with healthy behaviors.

Use Your Strengths to Recharge.

You can increase your desire to recharge the mind, body, heart, and spirit by using your character strengths to energize your activities.  For example, if you have a top strength of teamwork, your mind recharging activity could be to organize a book group to discuss new insights from a book.   If you have a top strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence, your body recharging activity could be exercising outside in the beauty of nature. If you have a top strength of leadership, your heart recharging activity could be to organize an outing to get to know more people in your neighborhood. If you have a top strength of kindness, your spirit recharging activity could be to donate your time feeding the homeless.  The more you connect your strengths to activities that recharge all four aspects of your being, the more likely it is that you will enjoy and continue the positive behaviors!

Recharge Your Mind:  The brain is like a muscle—if we don’t use it, it will atrophy. Flex your brain “muscle” to keep those neurons firing and making new connections. The best way to grow more connections is to take up a challenging activity that’s new to you, like technology, music, or a foreign language. Challenges should offer novelty and fun. Strive to learn something new.

Recharge Your Body:  There is no optimum functioning without taking care of our biological needs — rest, recovery, the proper nutrition, and physical movement.  Drink plenty of water–being dehydrated can cause fuzzy thinking, headaches, and blood circulation problems. Getting the amount of sleep your body needs is paramount. Set goals for your physical fitness and take a brief stretch break after every ninety-minute work session when possible—this will enable blood flow to your brain.  When physical problems are addressed, treating root causes instead of symptoms, many issues resolve themselves.

Recharge Your Heart:  It is also important that we take time to recharge our relationships. Character strengths fuel emotional intelligence—helping us understand the source of our emotions and build positive relationships with others. Take time to nurture your important personal relationships by spotting strengths in those close to you, and make an effort to spend quality time with those you love. Improve your professional relationships by appreciating strengths in your colleagues. When you do this, you replace negative feelings or thoughts with positive ones, which rejuvenates you.

Recharge Your Spirit:  Lastly, we cannot forget our spirits. Giving service is an excellent way to renew ourselves spiritually, and the personal benefits we reap are an added bonus. Did you know that people who regularly give service tend to live longer than those who don’t?  Other ways to renew spiritually are reading inspirational biographies, listening to uplifting music, or being inspired by nature.  Connecting to your character strengths is a spiritual renewal in and of itself.

Use your strengths to rejuvenate your whole self—in fact, using your strengths to recharge all four areas will make the process much more enjoyable and meaningful!

 “Your mind affects your body. Your mental health affects your physical health. This in turn affects your mental health again. These are not separate systems. They are intertwined and interconnected in subtle and sophisticated ways you need to understand.” — Dr. Mark Hyman

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