By Sana Rubiyana
When we seek help for a mental health condition, we can expect to hear about various medications and treatment options, but what’s often missing from the conversation is any talk of lifestyle changes.Things as simple as nutrition and exercise—can have a significant impact on quality of life, for any of us, but especially for those dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They can also help minimise the development of risk factors that can lead to conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, all of which are seen at higher rates in those with mental illness.
If you are dealing with a mental health challenge, take the initiative when speaking to your clinician. Ask for specifics on what changes you can safely make in your daily life to improve your mental health; there’s no single answer. But research has shown that lifestyle changes are also a key to prevention and recovery.
Change your Diet
It has been proven in numerous studies that what we eat is likely to affect how we feel. The foods we eat can affect our concentration, memory, alertness and mood. This is because different foods contain various nutrients that affect what hormones our bodies produce, as well as how they are released and synthesised into our systems. Less nutritious foods such as processed foods, fast food, and sweets can all undermine mental health.
Good nutrition can also prevent, or at least slow down, the deterioration of cognitive function associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is recommended that you eat foods rich in vitamin B, iron, magnesium, zinc and iron to enhance the brain’s function.
Along with weight management and physical health, exercise offers protective benefits to your mental health. A study by the National Institute of Health found that aerobic exercises reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Aerobic activities include:
Evidence suggests an exercise duration of 45 min 3–5 days a week to be optimal for good mental health.
Get enough quality sleep
The Australian Sleep Health Foundation recommend adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. A regular sleep cycle is created by going to bed and waking up around the same time each day. Good sleep habits can lead to mental health improvements, making it easier to recover after illness and facing challenges less daunting.
Keep a journal
Expressing yourself through keeping a record of your thoughts and how you are feeling can be a healthy way to deal with stress. Start keeping a journal and use it to identify your triggers. You can even go back to it from time to time to reflect on your progress, which helps to keep you motivated.
Get a hobby
Find something you enjoy doing that challenges you either mentally or physically, or both. Outdoor activities are even better as they will help you socialise more and meet new people. Learning a new skill or mastering an old one can also help you feel more proud and accomplished.
Make time to relax
Relaxation has been proven to assist with mental health. Daily meditation, deep breathing, or mindfulness can help us better manage emotions.
Every once in awhile, it is important to separate from the world to give yourself time to reflect, think and plan for your future.Introspection can help you be self-aware and resilient. Shut off the computer and unplug from social media from time to time. Appreciate nature and the world around you, and think of how far you have come or what goals you want to achieve.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. How you feel and see the world affects your personality, actions and decisions. It is critical to take steps and make lifestyle changes for improving mental health that will ensure your wellness and overall health.
(The author is a Counselling Psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Richmond Road, Bangalore. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)