How to look after your mental health this mental health awareness week (& beyond)
This week is mental health awareness week, an annual event which encourages the UK to focus on achieving good mental health.
As a health expert, I’d like to use this time to help as much as I can. Within this article I will outline 5 simple mental health tips for you to follow in order to boost your wellbeing.
1) Connect with others
The theme of this year’s mental health awareness week is the impact of loneliness, a key driver of poor mental health. We now live in such a fast paced and busy manner, it can be difficult to maintain a balance between work, family, hobbies and self care, etc. However, some form of frequent socialising should be prioritised, as connecting with others is more important than you might think. Social connection can increase feelings of happiness and self worth, and can lower anxiety and depression. Socialising can also improve your immune system and overall health. Research has even shown that a lack of human connection can be more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure, and can lead to an early death.
Try to be there for others who may be experiencing loneliness too, for example an elderly family member or neighbour. Helping others also triggers a release of oxytocin, the social bonding hormone. This has the effect of boosting your mood and reduces the effects of cortisol (the stress hormone). It also reduces your blood pressure.
2) Keep active and eat well
Exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster, which can have a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety. Physical activity, including gentle movement such as walking and yoga, releases feel good endorphins which help to boost your overall mood. Exercise also helps you to sleep better which is important for your wellbeing.
A healthy, well balanced diet is also essential for maintaining good mental health. We often turn to sugar filled and processed foods which can lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain. This is a key driver to mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. To boost your mental health, focus on eating nutrient rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts, seeds, beans and lentils are also excellent ‘brain foods’.
It has been found that a large percentage of the body’s supply of serotonin (a mood stabiliser) is produced in the gut. A healthy diet equals a healthy gut, which will help to equal a healthy mind. It is also key to stay hydrated; even mild dehydration can affect your mood and energy levels.
3) Spend time in nature
“Nature deprivation”, due to hours spent indoors, looking at screens has been linked to higher rates of depression. It is strongly advised to put your phone down, switch off the tv, and instead spend some of your free time in nature and green areas. Studies have shown that spending just 10-20 minutes in nature a few times a week can dramatically reduce the stress response and can leave you feeling calm and happy. It not only boosts your mental wellbeing, it can also contribute to your physical health by reducing blood pressure and heart rate.
4) Practice gratitude
Taking time to reflect on the positive things in life can help to boost your mood, and can help to rewire the brain as you shift your attention away from the negative stresses. Even when things are tough, it’s important to try to remind yourself of the things that you are lucky to have in your life such as a home, your loved ones, and even the little things like your coffee in the morning. Try to write 3 things you are grateful for each morning to start your day off on a positive note, or if you don’t have time, just take a mental note of them.
5) Don’t be afraid to ask for help
These previous 4 steps can make a huge impact for many, however for some, these lifestyle changes may of course not be enough. Sometimes speaking to a professional is vital. If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid or ashamed to open up and to ask for help. Your future self will be so thankful that you did so.
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