3 Ways to Improve Mental Health via Lifestyle Change
Roughly 50 million adults nationwide report experiencing at least one mental illness, and many have yet to seek proper help. Although there has been a more open discussion surrounding mental health these past few years, getting the conversation right can still be challenging. Here in the United States, we lead with a Western approach, which tends to involve treating the symptoms rather than identifying the root cause. Because of this, treatment typically involves medication. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that approach, especially if it helps to keep you balanced. However, what is less talked about are the ways in which you can help improve your mental health from the inside out.
The mind-body connection is incredibly powerful. What we put into our bodies and our lifestyle choices play a significant role in how we function mentally. When we are neglecting our basic needs like proper nutrition, 7-8 hours of sleep, hydration, etc, we are impairing all aspects of our well-being. That said, we are all about educating and empowering you to master the art of a less invasive more holistic approach, so let’s talk about some of the ways in which you can significantly improve your mental health using lifestyle change.
- Prioritizing movement:
The first step is something that may seem rather unimportant but will help you in the long run, and that is movement! I am not talking about jumping into a strict exercise regime, but something as simple as walking. One thing you can do to improve all aspects of your life is by aiming to get between 7,000-10,000 steps each day. Due to the nature of a 9-5 work day, many of us are living very sedentary lifestyles. This can cause a myriad of health problems as we age, limiting us in more ways than one. According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, walking has been shown to reduce stress, invite healing and improve your mood. When you get outside, your body releases endorphins, which are your “happy” hormones. Over time, it can lower our stress hormones and help in treating anxiety and depression. Start with something as simple as a 20-minute walk each day and see all the ways in which it can improve your quality of life.
2. Eating clean
Many of us fail to realize all the ways in which food contributes to our mental health. Not only does lack of food worsen our anxiety and depression symptoms, but so do the wrong foods! You may notice that when you eat an excess of refined sugar and carbohydrates, you feel a little on edge. This is most likely due to a spike in insulin. When our blood sugar is off, we feel it just as much in our minds as we do in our bodies. Not only that, but nutrient deficiencies are behind so many cases of anxiety and depression. According to the National Library of Medicine, “the dietary intake pattern of the general population in many Asian and American countries reflects that they are often deficient in many nutrients, especially essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. A notable feature of the diets of patients suffering from mental disorders is the severity of deficiency in these nutrients.” Food may not be the only contributing factor but it has a major impact on how we feel as our gut health is severely intertwined with our brain chemistry.
3. Getting proper sleep
This one is a difficult one for many, but so critical in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A lack of sleep worsens feelings of anxiety and depression. If you are frequently getting less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night, it will begin to take a toll on your cognitive function. This means you need to take a better look at your sleep hygiene. Limit screen time at least two hours before bed, sleep in a cool and dark environment and try to wind down by 10:00 pm. This will take a lot of practice to fix your sleep schedule if you are someone who is used to being a night owl, but making these simple changes can improve your performance and productivity dramatically.
Ciupka, N. W. B. (2023, April 5). 5 ways walking can reduce stress and prevent illness. NFCR. https://www.nfcr.org/blog/5-ways-walking-can-reduce-stress-and-prevent-illness-2022/?gad=1&gclid=Cj0KCQjwu-KiBhCsARIsAPztUF3njFeLSBwhCLp1FkSc0tPHYV3jIdqkfwVwg8GDYuCh82m_HMQF69AaAv2AEALw_wcB
The mental health effects of sleep deprivation in college students. Newport Institute. (2022, February 24). https://www.newportinstitute.com/resources/mental-health/sleep-disruption/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=NI_performancemax&utm_term=&kpid=go_cmp-17672242732_adg-_ad-__dev-c_ext-_prd-&gclid=Cj0KCQjwu-KiBhCsARIsAPztUF3dIPzLaXw-BHQoBETfQ1eSBeuOy6rrY38aqlMB183fGXCRVSlqHFgaAtI9EALw_wcB
Rao, T. S. S., Asha, M. R., Ramesh, B. N., & Rao, K. S. J. (2008, April). Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian journal of psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/