Healthy Living for Mental Health
Following this year’s Time to Talk day organised by Mind and Re-think Mental Illness, Raquel Palmer of Licence
to KALE in Robertson Street welcomes the initiative, but considers some of the missing elements in the current attitude to mental health.
On 3 February we celebrated Time to Talk day; established to bring the nation together and break the silence around mental health issues. The campaign information states that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Given the difficulties of the last two years many of us have become more aware than ever of issues related to our mental wellbeing. But we seem to keep forgetting to talk about the relationship between physical and mental health.
What we eat, how we move and how much sleep we get, are all vital elements that influence mental health. Our health is precious, but to get it back, we don’t need to do anything extraordinary. Small changes in the way we eat, exercise and sleep can go a long way towards keeping body and mind in good shape.
Eat To Feel Better
Being aware of how diet impacts mental health can help you know where to make changes. Eating regularly helps keep sugar levels steady, which in turn maintains energy levels and aids concentration. Nuts are a great source of omega fatty acids and magnesium as well as vitamin E, which helps protect your brain cells. They are also delicious and make a great snack. Not drinking enough water can make it really difficult to concentrate and think clearly, which can also aggravate anxiety. Dehydration also causes headaches, tiredness, constipation, memory-loss and mood changes.
Most of us are aware that fruits and vegetables are beneficial for the body as they are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can help improve your mood. They serve as an additional energy source for metabolic activities and may even help you live longer and look better. Beans make a great addition to your diet; rich in fibre and protein, they may help improve mood.
Apart from being delicious, dark chocolate is also nutritious and has been shown to improve mood in people with depression. Tomatoes increase dopamine in the brain and garlic increases the levels of serotonin, both known for reducing symptoms of depression. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and can help reduce stress levels.
CREDIT: (left to right) Mikhail Nilov; Maarten van den Heuvel; Ella Olsson – all from pexels.com
On The Move
Exercise improves cardiovascular, joint and bone health, increases energy levels and helps maintain healthier weight. But it also improves mental health. A recent study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that simply walking for an hour daily can reduce the risk of depression and prevent relapses.
Exercise initially spikes stress response causing heart pressure to increase. But as the body adapts, levels of cortisol and epinephrine lower, causing a heightened sense of well-being. Exercising also reduces inflammation and releases endorphins; powerful feel-good chemicals.
First steps towards feeling better can be taken by walking to work or school or getting off the bus a few stops earlier. A 15-minute brisk walk is almost equivalent to a mile, you can also bike to work, take the stairs more often or even park at the far end of the parking lot. Sitting down all day can actually decrease serotonin levels in the brain. Just standing up and stretching every 20 minutes makes a difference.
And So To Bed
Sleep is still not fully understood but we know that poor or erratic sleep can leave us feeling irritable and stressed. This can be associated with abnormal levels of serotonin. The neurotransmitter is involved in maintaining our sleep/wake cycles. This can be a vicious circle as constant stress also disrupts levels of serotonin.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to impaired cognitive performance, depression, lack of empathy, and inflammatory conditions. During sleep our bodies undertake detoxification processes. A network of vessels called the glymphatic system clears waste products from the brain and Central Nervous System (CNS).
Improving our sleep environment can help a lot. Creating a dark, cool and comfortable bedroom, using relaxation techniques like listening to music or meditating, setting aside some de-stress time before bed and switching off electronic devices. Yoga, meditation and exercise all help to maintain the balance of various neurochemicals. Not everyone can catch up on lost sleep during the day, but taking a nap has been shown to reverse the harm done by a sleepless night.
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