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Why does my therapist care about diet, exercise, and sleep?

Whenever I meet with new clients, I always ask about their diet, exercise routine, and sleep hygiene. Some folks seem puzzled about why a mental health professional would be so interested in their physical well-being, so I thought I'd try to explain.

This pyramid depicts the "Hierarchy of Needs" developed by Abraham Maslow. Maslow theorized that humans must meet their lower level needs before they can begin to address needs at a higher level. This means that if we don't have adequate food, water, air, sleep and basic health, we can't focus on achieving safety, love and belonging, esteem, or self-actualization, many of which are often therapeutic goals. As a culture, however, we often overlook our fundamental physical health needs. How many times have we gone to work sick because we felt we had too much to do? Skipped lunch to get work done or eaten out of a vending machine? Functioned on less than adequate sleep? Skipped exercising because we don't have time? The list could go on and on. And in some professions (I'm looking at my fellow lawyers here), these habits are often perceived as a badge of honor rather than an indicator of poor health.

Research abounds to show that exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep can improve anxiety, depression, and overall stress levels. Attending to our bodies is truly a prerequisite to attending to our minds. So in addition to having a therapist who can support our mental health needs, we should all grab some carrot sticks, move our bodies, and get a good night's rest.

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