The Importance Of Mental Nutrition
We know a great deal about nutrition and health in regard to dietary choices – clearly, what you eat has a powerful influence on your physical well-being and risks of disease. Most people, however, do not consider that what you allow into your mind is analogous to what you feed your body and significantly influences emotional well-being. It makes sense to be as careful about mental nutrition as about your diet.
If you habitually and unconsciously listen to sad music, read sad stories, and watch sad movies, chances are you will be sadder than if you choose happier versions of those three art forms. If you habitually tune in to news programs that make you angry and distraught, chances are you will spend less time feeling serene and content. The challenge is to exercise conscious control over your mental nutrition, and what you pay attention to. The world is both wonderful and terrible, beautiful and ugly. At any moment one can choose to focus on the positive or negative aspects of reality. Without denying the negative, it is possible to practice focusing more on the positive, especially if you want to shift your emotional set point in that direction.
Dr. Weil advises you to take particular care with your choices of media. A great deal of the content is designed to work against a healthy mental nutrition by inducing excitement and tension. Often it exacerbates anxiety and the sense of being overwhelmed and out of control. He is a proponent of news fasting: start by excluding news in any form for one day a week and work up to total abstinence for an entire week.
Dr. Weil has also had much fun talking about the benefits of this strategy on national television news shows. (He says, “Not a few newscasters have told me privately that they wish they could do it.”) A great many people who have done it report decreased anxiety and worry and increased happiness as a result of limiting their intake of news. With news actively foisted on us, it takes effort to keep it out of consciousness.
Some of the other ways Dr. Weil controls input to his mind are that he:
- Pays attention to the effects on his mood of what he reads, watches, and listens to for entertainment.
- Doesn’t watch television except when on the road, and when he is in a hotel room and flips around the ever-increasing number of channels, he is dismayed by how few acceptable options there are. He has no interest in shows about police and criminals, does not care for mindless sitcoms and game shows, and doesn’t tune in to the news. He will, however, watch documentaries: biography, nature, history, and science programs; and looks at the food channels from time to time, mostly to be amused or shocked at what some people regard as good cooking and eating.
- Does not read newspapers or news magazines but may scan internet headlines or listen sporadically to National Public Radio. Dr. Weil says he is never worried about being uninformed. If something important happens, someone always lets him know about it.
Finally, when he does sense that he is vulnerable to a slump in mood, he takes extra care to nourish his mind well.
He says: “I am not an arbiter of taste. It is not my place to tell you what to read, listen to, or watch. I just want you to be aware that the decisions you make here affect your moods and emotions for better and worse. I urge you to make them mindfully.”