10 Easy Ways to Proactively Boost Mental Wellness

10 Easy Ways to Proactively Boost Mental Wellness

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 [1]. 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[2]. 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!

Tips:
1️⃣ Schedule time in your diary for movement like any other important appointment.
2️⃣ Choose activities that you enjoy. You will more likely find consistency when you undertake activities that you actually like.
3️⃣ Try something new – don’t be scared to try new things as an adult. You’re never too old to learn new skills. Infact I was in my mid 30s when I learned how to do handstands, and olympic weightlifting. Practice and enjoy being a beginner!
4️⃣ All incidental exercise counts. Say yes to a walk with a friend, to going out dancing, to going to the market or helping out at your kids athletics carnival.
5️⃣ Start slow and build. Start with what feels manageable and then slowly grow your time commitment and capabilities. It won’t even feel hard. You will soon expand your comfort zone, gain confidence and find courage to try things outside it, which is where the magic happens!

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 [4].

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 [5].

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 [3].

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 [4].

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.

Tips:
1️⃣ Eat whole foods mostly plants such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes and whole food protein sources.
2️⃣ Limit (avoid completely if possible) processed foods.
3️⃣ Plan your meals to inform your food shop so you have healthy food to cook with and shop regularly for fresh food (try online for convenience).
4️⃣ Prepare food in advance. You will stay on track easier if you have some snacks and meals ready to go.
5️⃣ Sit down and enjoy slowly. The stress of rushing through a meal will not help with digestion and as you know this is detrimental to a healthy gut microbiome.

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 [6]. 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 [6].

Tips:
1️⃣ Get outside every day – there is no better source than the sun.
2️⃣ Talk to your doctor about whether you need supplementation.
3️⃣ Increase your intake of foods that are rich in Vitamin D.
4️⃣ Consider foods that are fortified with Vitamin D.
5️⃣ Be aware of foods and activities that can inhibit Vitamin D absorption.

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 [8].

Tips:
1️⃣ Exercise outside, walking, running, cycling, even a gym workout can be done outside.
2️⃣ Schedule walking meetings or choose to have meetings in any outdoor space.
3️⃣ Open windows at home to allow fresh air through your home.
4️⃣ Pick an outdoor hobby such as gardening, running, surfing or photography.
5️⃣ Plan catch ups outside. Great options include barbecues, picnics, walking or rooftop bars.

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 [9].

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.

Tips:

1️⃣ Establish a regular bed time and wake up time. Through repetition you will train your body into this pattern.
2️⃣ Ensure your bedroom is darkened to encourage uninterrupted sleep.
3️⃣ Sleep in a quiet environment. Our brain focuses on the noise around us, this is a survival mechanism to alert us of danger.
4️⃣ Wind down by creating a relaxing bed time routine. It could include things like a warm bath, reading or meditation.
5️⃣ Switch off computers and phones for at least an hour before bed.

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 [10].

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 [10]. 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.

Tips:
1️⃣ Take a daily account of what you’ve accomplished. It can be easy to be consumed with the ‘to do’ list, but it’s always best to focus on what we have achieved and are proud of instead.
2️⃣ Practice daily gratitude. This helps us stay positive when we acknowledge what’s good in life.
3️⃣ Try relaxation activities such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation.
4️⃣ Say “no” to additional responsibilities when you are already at capacity, or already stressed. It’s OK to say “my plate is as full as I like it right now”, without having to explain yourself.
5️⃣ Stay connected to people you love and if it’s not enough to keep you calm and happy, seek additional support from a trained professional.

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 [11]. Connection is critical to mental wellbeing. A familiar look or loving smile can change how we feel instantly.

Tips:
1️⃣ Connect with friends and family. By taking the leap and reaching out it can recharge your energy by strengthening a sense of belonging. Set aside a few hours a week to do this. There doesn’t need to be a reason to call. A simple “hey I’ve been thinking about you” is all the reason you need.
2️⃣ Reconnect with old friends. There’s no shame in reaching out and recommencing a friendship that’s been a little neglected. Your friend will be thankful you made the first move.
3️⃣ Chat to strangers. Sometimes when we go out in the world, small interactions with others are enough to lift our mood.
4️⃣ Join a group or start a new hobby. It’s the easiest way to meet new people, and as a total bonus you can connect with people who share your interests.
5️⃣ Take it slow. If you’ve felt lonely for a long time, meeting new people can be terrifying. So take it slow and perhaps join an activity where you can participate without interacting too much. Like a group exercise class or an online drawing class.

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 [12].

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 [12].

Tips:
1️⃣ Do something you loved to do as a kid. This is an instant way to find joy.
2️⃣ Do something you’ve always wanted to do. This might take a little more planning, but that bucket list needs some attention. Plan it, because you will get joy from both the activity itself and the anticipation of it.
3️⃣ Pursue a creative interest. Writing, singing or making music all have therapeutic effects. Even just listening to a song you love. Brain images show that music can trigger feel-good hormones [12].
4️⃣ Be joyful and do fun things with others! Good times build relationships, and as discussed above, good relationships are key to our happiness.
5️⃣ Find your flow state. This can be a little trickier to identify, but it’s that thing you do that you get so passionate about, and so absorbed in that hours can pass without you even realising (it might even be writing a blog!).

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 [13]. 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 [13].

Finding your purpose can be difficult. Here are some tips on how you might approach it.

Tips:
1️⃣ Donate your time, money or talent to something you feel strongly about.
2️⃣ Explore different interests to find out what you love to do.
3️⃣ Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage you.
4️⃣ Ask yourself the big “why’s”, “why do you live where you live?", “Why do you do what you do?”, “why are you happy in certain moments?”, “why are you bothered by certain things?”.
5️⃣ Do some work around your own personal values. Take a values quizz and define the 2-5 key things you care most about and try and align your decisions with these values.

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.

Tips:
1️⃣ Swap alcoholic beverages for non-alcoholic beverages. That’s where High Vibes Drinks has your back!
2️⃣ Have more alcohol-free days.
3️⃣ Never consume more than the recommended 10 units of alcohol across a week and keep alcohol within the recommendations of no more than 2 drinks per session.
4️⃣ Look out for opportunities to socialise without alcohol.
5️⃣ Expand your mental wellness tool kit so you don’t fall back on alcohol as a way to unwind. Be open to trying new relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, reading, taking baths, gratitude practices and creative outlets.

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!

Em

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:
[1] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health
[2] https://www.health.gov.au/
[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection#:~:text=A%20troubled%20intestine%20can%20send,GI)%20system%20are%20intimately%20connected.
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
[5] https://atlasbiomed.com/blog/9-ways-gut-bacteria-and-mental-health-probiotics-and-depression-are-linked/
[6] https://www.tricitymed.org/2018/08/5-ways-the-sun-impacts-your-mental-and-physical-health/#:~:text=Improved%20Mood&text=Getting%20some%20sun%20increases%20your,in%20combination%20with%20other%20treatments.
[7] https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-d
[8] https://liwli.com/surprising-health-benefits-of-fresh-air/#:~:text=It%20can%20give%20you%20more%20energy%20and%20mental%20focus.&text=A%20study%20at%20the%20Human,feel%20happier%20and%20less%20anxious.
[9] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health
[10] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225959/
[12] https://www.mhanational.org/create-joy-and-satisfaction#:~:text=Experts%20say%20good%20feelings%20can,relaxation%20and%20can%20reduce%20anxiety
[13] https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/202203/how-creating-sense-purpose-can-impact-your-mental-health#:~:text=Research%20shows%20that%20individuals%20who,attacks%2C%20strokes%2C%20and%20dementia.
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