Don’t worry. Be healthy.

April 30, 2012

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and a great way to begin is by saying, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

Deborah K. Arnold

While that slogan is the name of a hit song by Bobby McFerrin, circa 1988, being able to do both at the same time is no song and dance.

For starters, take “worry.” While it can raise your heart rate, it unfortunately does not count as exercise.

“New science highlights that it is not the stress itself but how we handle it that determines health and/or wellness,” says Deborah K. Arnold, M.S.N., RN, assistant professor of nursing at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing.

According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, mental health is “a state of successful performance of mental functioning, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity.” In other words, a mentally healthy person doesn’t worry because they successfully manage stress and become resistant to distress by becoming resilient.

The report indicates that strategies to build resilience include keeping relationships positive, choosing friends who are supportive and responsible, dealing with (and not avoiding) feelings during difficult times, avoiding harmful coping strategies, asking for help when needed, engaging in healthful behaviors and serving others.

By no accident, doing these things also can make you happy. Which brings us to the end of this tune: “Be happy.”

“Research proves that happy people have better health habits, lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems,” Arnold says. “A well-developed immune system is more able to prevent as well as recover from disease and illness.“

So, to continue the song’s lyrics (with a few additions by behavioral science and your government): “Because when you worry, your face will frown, and your immune system will turn upside down. So, put a smile on your face as to not pace your heart for a race. To live longer and stronger, don’t worry. Be healthy.”

— Blair Williamson