In our last post, we spoke about mental health. It’s a topic that affects many and yet isn’t given enough air time. Your mental health is essential to your overall well being. Throughout a lifetime, we experience so many emotions and situations that can really affect our overall well being. While these events are unplanned and unforeseeable, it’s important to prepare for the unknown by focusing on your mental health now. This applies to diet and lifestyle too by the way. This blog post aims to arm you with some tools to help give you ideas for supporting your mental health.
Ideas for Supporting Your Mental Health
In recent times, researchers are examining the global causes of illness and disability. They have found that the single largest cause of disability worldwide was mental disorders – largely, the common illnesses of depression and anxiety.
This list isn’t aimed to be exclusive, nor is it supposed to suggest a cure or magic solution to your problems. It’s merely a guide, a series of tools to add to your toolkit if you will. We’ve split it into three key areas – diet, exercise and lifestyle. The list is not exclusive or exhaustive so use it as a foundation to create and add your own ideas!
Eating a diet high in sugar causes havoc on our energy by creating peaks and quick dips in our blood sugar. By consequence, this creates peaks and severe slumps, often followed by “hanger”, irritability, trouble concentrating and so on.
Certain key nutrients play a role in our brain activity. They function in multiple ways, from supporting neurotransmitter function, supporting the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & relaxed) and reducing inflammation. Nutrient deficiencies probably aren’t the main determinant of mental health disorders but they do matter. They are low-hanging fruit—small changes you can make with major impacts. Some nutrients to consider: choline, magnesium, taurine, selenium, zinc, carnosine, vitamin D and omega 3. You can google and search for food ideas rich in these aforementioned nutrients. For the most part you will find them in good quality meat, fish and leafy greens. Two in particular receive a further honorable mention below.
Research continues to confirm the benefits of omega 3 in the diet. Omega 3 and 6 are important signaling molecules that have different effects in the body’s response to inflammation. One major reason to get more omega 3 is to help rebalance the ratio of anti-inflammatory (omega 3) and inflammatory fats (omega 6). Our current standard diet tends to skew this heavily. You can read more about it here.
At present, there is some evidence in the scientific community largely posits depression as an affliction of both the central nervous system and systemic inflammation. This would suggest that reducing inflammation can potentially help. Eating a largely plant based diet, with some meat and fish and plenty of healthy fats will set you up on the right path. From there you can leverage herbs and spices for an even more potent hit. Curcumin has shown promise in research to date but there is also ginger, garlic, cinnamon, parsley and many many more. Add these to your diet.
Adaptogens are a group of plants that have been found to have some benefit against resisting stress. There are different adaptogens to help your body come back to centre, from ashwagandha for long term stress, reishi for immunity etc. Most of these herbs and tinctures are widely available to buy as teas or supplements but it’s suggested to speak with your doctor before taking anything in case there is any potential interaction with medication.
Humans, like many animals follow the natural light cycle known as the circadian rhythm. We wake up with the light and sleep with darkness. Vitamin D is a vitamin (really it’s a hormone) we make from sunlight. Vitamin D receptors can be found pretty much everywhere in the human body, indicating a connection to many processes in the body. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with depression. Consequently, vitamin D insufficiency, defined as blood levels inferior or equal to 20 ng/mL, may affect as much as 50% of the population worldwide. One simple reason is that we are not outside as much as prior generations and unfortunately the healing properties of sunlight cannot penetrate glass.
The first step is to get tested by requesting a 25(OH)D3 test from your doctor. From there discuss whether a supplement is necessary. Note that our body stores vitamin D so it’s important to get regularly tested, especially if supplementing.
Food can be classified into carbs, proteins and fats. When we eat and digest protein, the units of digestion are called amino acids. There are certain amino acids that are essential, meaning we must get them from food. Depression has long been linked to low levels of neurotransmitters (namely dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, and GABA), all of which require certain amino acids. To make serotonin, tryptophan is required which we can find in meat, poultry, eggs and fish. Other amino acids to consider include glycine and tyrosine. Overall, diet rich in high-quality protein will provide a wide array of neurotransmitter precursors.
As a whole, exercise helps to improve your mood by releasing happy hormones, serotonin and tryptophan!
Your body uses different systems depending on the type of activity you are doing and for how long e.g. walking, running for a bus etc. The three systems are called your ATP-PC system, anaerobic and aerobic system.
Your aerobic system is your system of life. It is the system that makes energy in the presence of oxygen. The aerobic system supplies energy for body movement lasting for long periods of work or endurance activities. This system is also the pathway that provides energy to most of the body’s energy needs not related to physical activity, such as building and repairing body tissues, digesting food, controlling body temperature etc. For this reason, the health of this system can directly impact on the health of the other two (anaerobic and ATP-PC).
This system produces energy in the absence (for the most part) or oxygen, making it from glycogen. The system fuels high intensity activity for short periods of time.
This system covers very short and intense exercise less than 10 seconds.
Exercise Ideas for Supporting Your Mental Health
We can train and maintain these systems in a variety of ways. Below are a few ideas:
- Take the stairs
- Hill sprints: if you’re feeling energetic, take it to the part find a small hill and perform 5-10 sprints, walking back down to catch your breadth
- Playing sports has a combined benefit of being a social activity.
- Strength training – While all exercise is good for your health, it’s interesting to note that some might be better than others for mood. An experiment that investigated the effects of aerobics, bodybuilding, and circuit training on 45 depressed patients showed that bodybuilding was the clear winner in reducing depressive symptoms.
The final section explores
Humans have this incredible ability to create and think beyond the present. In fact, it often means we forget about being present and funnel our mind to the past or future. Mindfulness is a practice “of learning to focus attention on moment-by-moment experience with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance”. We wrote about just five benefits of mindfulness and how to get started.
95% of Irish people agree that talking with a friend or family can be helpful to your health. There is power in your social circle so build and care for it wisely. As the saying goes – you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
Several studies site how sunlight markedly improves mood. Likewise, a lot of people suffer from seasonal affective disorder in winter, when light is limited. Light exposure stimulates photoreceptors in the retina. Consequently, this stimulates the hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal glands. Different types of coloured light have different benefits – red light therapy for healing, green for balance, blue for calm etc.
Just 20 minutes a day can have a big impact on your stress and resilience to stress. Studies have shown that walking in the woods can improve blood pressure, boost mental health, and decrease cancer risk.
We hope you’ve found some good ideas for supporting your mental health in this post.