Written by Emily Johnson – Co-owner, High Vibes Drinks
How great is it, that as a society we are recognizing mental illness, reducing the stigma and really breaking down the barriers to help people who are having a tough time! We have come so far in the past 10 years. We can now speak openly when we are having difficulties, which helps us share the burden.
Many of the initiatives I see really work to help with mental illness and creating awareness. What I want to bring attention to today is Mental Wellness and all the proactive things we can do on a daily basis to really keep ourselves well. I see Mental Wellness as being more than just the absence of mental illness. Once you are experiencing mental illness it can be a tough process to get your health back and it requires time and larger interventions. So it makes sense to focus on Mental Wellness more proactively to stay healthy and even thrive.
What if we looked at Mental Wellness the same way we look at our Physical Wellness? As a Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach (and from personal experience too), I know that difficult to lose 20kg once you’ve forgotten to look after yourself for a period of time. It makes much more sense to make Physical Health part of your daily lifestyle so you can smooth out the roller coaster and avoid the necessity of bigger interventions.
Similarly, a daily approach to mental wellness should be part of our healthy lifestyle. And if we approach it proactively and consistently, we can work towards prevention or early intervention. Here are 10 things that when undertaken regularly can help us all maintain mental wellness.
1. Get moving for happiness.
There is a lot of science around why it’s important to get moving. When we exercise our body produces endorphins, serotonin and endocannabinoids which are chemicals that make us feel good . Exercise improves our mood, reduces stress and raises self-confidence. It’s one of the quickest ways we can turn our day around. Plus you get out there and see people when you exercise, so it can also reduce feelings of loneliness.
The Australian National Guidelines say we should be active most days, preferably every day. They suggest doing 2.5-5 hours of moderate activity per week (or 1.25 – 2.5 hours vigorous) with at least two days of strength training per week. This might be a bit overwhelming for many who are getting back into things. So let’s just start with a little activity every day doing something you enjoy and simply build from there. My current favorites include walking, yoga, strength training and swimming, because I can fit them easily around my life. But you do you! I have clients who do ballroom dancing, rollerblading classes, horse-riding and hiking to keep active. The world is your oyster so get creative!
2. Eat whole foods for mental wellness.
The brain and gut are connected and many people don’t realise that 90% of our serotonin receptors are located in the gut! How fascinating is that! It’s no surprise that gut health and diet can both affect mood. Studies now show that eating a healthy diet may actually be protective against depression .
The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines, and visa versa. This is because the gut and the brain are connected by the vagus nerve, which can send messages to your brain from your colon and vise versa .
The very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. Just like a troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, and a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or product of anxiety, stress or depression .
This bidirectional link between brain, gut and microbiome has come to the forefront of the medical research community recently, with studies showing the importance of a healthy microbiome, for people who suffer from anxiety and depression .
So what to do? Simply eat whole, unprocessed foods. There is no one right diet, but whatever style of diet you lean towards make sure it’s plant forward and removes unprocessed foods and focuses on whole foods.
3. Get outside and get some sunshine and Vitamin D
Vitamin D is just as vital for mental health as it is for physical health. There is sufficient research to show that not having enough of this vitamin can lead to depression-like symptoms. People with depression have higher chances of having Vitamin D deficiency.
Research has found more mental health distress in people during seasons with little sun exposure. On the contrary, days with plenty of sunshine were associated with better mental health and the availability of sunshine has more impact on mood than rainfall, temperature, or any other environmental factor . Sunshine impacts our mood, with sun exposure being correlated to increased serotonin and helps people reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Sun exposure can also help people with anxiety and depression, especially when combined with other treatments .
4. Get fresh air daily.
It’s still hard to believe that fresh air actually makes us happier. Fresh air is rich in oxygen, which increases the level of oxygen circulating in your blood.
As your lungs take in more fresh air, the oxygen levels in your blood increase. Higher oxygen levels mean more of it circulates to your brain, which helps you feel energised and improves your ability to concentrate and remember information. A study found that subjects who were given oxygen versus regular air performed up to 20% better on a memory test. It can also help promote the production of serotonin, allowing you to feel happier and less anxious. You’ll get a clearer, sharper, calmer mind, and all it takes is a few breaths of fresh air .
5. Sleep more
Quality sleep is a mental health superpower. When you get enough sleep, you have more energy and concentration. It also makes it easier to manage your emotions. This can help you have more patience and help you deal with any stressor's life throws your way.
Sleep is closely connected to mental and emotional health and has demonstrated links to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other conditions. And while research is ongoing on this topic, evidence points to a bidirectional relationship. Mental health disorders tend to make it harder to sleep well, and at the same time, poor sleep can be a contributing factor to the initiation and worsening of mental health problems .
While we sometimes think having a drink can help us get to sleep. It’s best to avoid it because while it might help you fall asleep, it interferes with our REM and makes it more difficult to stay asleep.
6. Manage stress
Stress is actually a normal part of life and is part of our body's mechanisms designed to keep us safe and healthy. The body’s autonomic nervous system controls heart rate, breathing, vision changes and more. Our built-in stress responses of “fight, flight or freeze” are actually part of how humans have evolved to survive .
When stress becomes overwhelming and prolonged, the risks for mental health problems and medical problems increase. Long-term stress increases the risk of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, substance use problems and sleep problems . Obviously, it’s not a good idea to use alcohol to deal with stress. It actually increases anxiety, but there are plenty of healthy ways we can manage stress daily, we’ve already discussed exercise and eating well, but there are many others.
7. Connect with loved ones to reduce loneliness
Us humans are a social species. We require safe and secure social surroundings to survive. We have evolved that way, as it is advantageous to our survival. Satisfying socials relationships are essential for mental and physical wellbeing, and without it we become lonely.
Loneliness can lead to various psychiatric disorders like depression, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders and Alzheimer’s disease . Connection is critical to mental wellbeing. A familiar look or loving smile can change how we feel instantly.
8. Find joy
Ever wondered why “all work and no play” leads to a very dull life? Well it’s fascinating to know that even experts agree and say that good feelings can boost your ability to bounce back from stress, solve problems, think flexibly and even fight disease .
Studies show that laughing decreases pain, may help your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation and can reduce anxiety. Positive emotions actually decrease stress hormones and build emotional strength .
9. Live your purpose
Research shows that people who have a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life tend to have better mental health, overall well-being, and cognitive functioning compared to those who lack a sense of purpose. Individuals with a sense of purpose are less likely to have heart attacks, strokes and dementia . They tend to engage in healthier behaviors and lifestyle choices such as participating in exercise, and preventative health practices. A study also found that they were better at stress management and had better sleep than individuals without a strong sense of purpose .
Finding your purpose can be difficult. Here are some tips on how you might approach it.
10. Reduce alcohol consumption
We know alcohol impacts our mental health. It’s such an important topic and we know you’ll want the detail, so we’ve covered it separately here. But we want you to know some easy things you can do to reduce your alcohol intake too. We know alcohol is a part of many social gatherings, so it’s not good enough for us to simply remove ourselves from our social networks. After all, connection is important for mental wellness too. We believe a compromise can be reached, so here are our top tips.
There you have it, that’s a total of 50 tips to increase mental wellness (we do like to be thorough). Remember, it’s about being proactive. We are all in charge of our own mental wellness and have the capability to thrive! If you have any other additions pop them in the comments below.
Keep vibing and thriving!