Everybody enjoys when life flows smoothly, and everything feels calm and clear; when we feel engaged, motivated and positive about our direction; our achievements and our relationships; when we feel relaxed and content with a strong sense of belonging and purpose.
Unfortunately, we do not feel like this all the time and poor mental health can be the reason we feel disconnected, unmotivated and stressed out. Poor mental health can present in many different ways, including depression, anxiety, body image problems, eating disorders, PTSD, OCD and sometimes self-harm or suicidal behavior. These can all affect our lives with serious consequences such as loss of jobs or important relationships.
Research has shown that a holistic proactive approach is very helpful for managing these conditions. This includes many different factors such as exercise, good nutrition, healthy sleep and connecting with other people. Looking after our overall well-being positively affects our mental health.
Besides nutrition, this is one of the most important and effective things to do for yourself. It is often when we feel like doing it the least that it helps the most! Some tips for starting and staying on track include:
- Start small – a short walk can be enough in the beginning. Remember, exercise is anything that gets your body moving and your heart beating.
- Do something you like – it’s much easier to stick to an exercise program if it’s an activity you enjoy.
- Keep track of your progress – keeping a note of how you feel the days you exercise can help motivate you when you don’t feel like doing anything but staying home.
- Set a routine and commit to it – if you try to just ‘fit it in’ around other things in your life, you will find it harder to get long term benefits and may find that it keeps getting dropped from your schedule, especially when things get busy.
Exercise can help you improve concentration, raise your energy levels, improve your confidence, boost your mood, release stress and anxiety and help you sleep better.
Improving your sleep will impact every aspect of your life, the right amount of sleep helps you feel brighter, more optimistic and gives you more energy. You’ll be able to better manage your emotions, make better decisions, have more patience and deal with stressful situations more easily.
Some of the best ways to improve your sleep have to do with changing some simple habits.
- At least an hour before bed, turn off video games, YouTube and social media. Try a movie, book or watch TV instead.
- Lower the brightness on your phone and computer screens at night. Apple’s night-shift is one way to do this. Messenger has Darkmode for night time use.
- Try to sleep the same amount every night. Falling asleep one hour earlier is better than sleeping in one hour later. Getting up at the same time each day makes a real difference to your sleep pattern.
- If you need to get up during the night, try to avoid turning on bright lights and hop back into bed quickly.
- Avoid caffeine at least six hours before you go to bed.
- If you can, avoid napping during the day.
Connecting with other people.
Research has shown recently that the quality of your relationships is one of the most important factors of your well-being. Ideally you would have a variety of different kinds of relationships in your life, each one bringing different benefits and challenges. Parents, friends, co-workers, people with similar interests as well as romantic partners are all helpful to support you when things get difficult. You can develop and strengthen your relationships in lots of ways.
- Open up to people – Being open with people encourages them to open up to you.
- Communicate – Get to know the people around you, talking together helps acquaintances become friends.
- Focus on positive relationships that make you feel good about yourself and help to support your goals.
Ultimately having a strong support network can help to keep you focused and provide a sense of belonging.
Nutrition refers to both the food you include in your daily diet and additional supplements that you might take to cover any shortfall in particular vitamins or nutrients. Even making small improvements to the way you eat can help you to feel better as eating junk food contributes to mind fog, fatigue and bloated feelings that can decrease your well-being. There are nutrients that play an important role in maintaining cognitive function, energy production, healthy mood and good mental health in people of all ages.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
The highest amounts of Omega-3 fats can be found in oily fish; sardines, anchovies, mackerel and salmon. Larger fish, such as mackerel should be consumed in moderation due to high levels of mercury. Nuts, seeds and oysters also contain good amounts of Omega-3 fats.
These fats are required for brain cell structure and function as well as modulating inflammatory pathways in the brain. Research has demonstrated beneficial effects from Omega-3 fatty acids for symptoms of depression, bipolar depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Brain chemicals and structures are formed from proteins high in certain amino acids. Tryptophan is needed to create serotonin and N-acetyl cysteine converts to glutathione, an antioxidant with protective effects. We have evidence that it’s helpful in bipolar depression, schizophrenia, trichotillomania and other compulsive and addictive behaviours. Another amino acid-based nutrient known as S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) has antidepressant qualities.
Amino acids are found in any source of protein, especially meats, seafood, eggs, nuts and legumes.
Vitamin D can be synthesized via sunlight, at least 10 minutes a day on the skin between 10am and 3pm during summer, although be sure to seek professional health advice regarding skin cancer concerns. Aside from sunlight, vitamin D can also be found in oily fish, UVB-exposed mushrooms and fortified milk.
Vitamin D is important for brain development with deficiency being linked to depressive symptoms. It is especially important in the winter months to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D.
Zinc, magnesium and iron all have important supportive roles for brain functioning and good mental health.
Zinc, a trace element, is involved in many neurological reactions. Deficiency has been linked to increased depressive symptoms and there’s emerging evidence for zinc supplementation in improving depressed mood, primarily alongside antidepressants.
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to depressive and anxiety symptoms. Iron is involved in many neurological activities and deficiency is associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as developmental problems. This is, in part, due to its role in transporting oxygen to the brain.
Zinc is abundant in lean meats, oysters, whole grains, pumpkin seeds and nuts, while magnesium is richest in nuts, legumes, whole grains, leafy greens and soy. Iron occurs in higher amounts in unprocessed meats and organ meats, such as liver, and in modest amounts in grains, nuts and leafy greens, such as spinach.
B Group vitamins and Folate
B vitamins are required for a wide range of critical metabolic processes and support the neurological and nervous system pathways. Folate has an antidepressant effect on its own and has also been shown to improve the effects of antidepressant medications.
Folate is found in abundance in leafy green vegetables, legumes, whole grains, brewer’s yeast and nuts. Unprocessed meats, eggs, cheese, dairy, whole grains and nuts are high in B vitamins. When taking supplements, it’s advisable to take B vitamins together as they have a synergistic effect.
Wonder Vitamin B is a liquid complex that provides a great tasting and easily absorbed B vitamin complex, including Folinic Acid (the active form of Folic Acid), Zinc, Vitamin C and Lysine. This is a great formula for supporting the nervous system and ensuring that the metabolic processes for great mental health have all the nutrients they require to produce the neurotransmitters and hormones you need.