Nutrition & diet
The right foods, vitamins, minerals and hydration fuel our bodies and minds so we can function properly. Never under estimate how closely what you eat is tied to how you feel and think. Diet is now a recognised modifiable factor in the prevention and treatment of mental illness. Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' clinical practice guidelines for mood disorders have formally recognised the importance of diet to mental health. You may also like to explore natural supplements in your diet with vitamins, minerals and plant-based substances in either powder or tablet form to complement your meals.
Movement & activity
Movement matters. When our bodies move, so do our brains, enhancing mental clarity, improved mood, better brain function, 'happy' hormone release and increased resilience. Find ways to move your body at times of day that work for you. Whatever our job or lifestyle, there is always an opportunity to move our body. Walking, dancing, cycling, sport, running, a gym session and house work are all ways to get moving!
Gut-brain axis & our central nervous system
The human gut contains nearly 500 million neurons, which are connected to the brain through nerves. The gut-brain axis refers to this connection between your gut and your brain. The vagus nerve is one of the biggest nerves connecting your gastrointestinal tract to your nervous system and plays many important roles in your body. It has a wide-ranging impact on inflammation and the microbiota composition in the gut, yet many factors can affect how well it functions. Psychological stress has a particularly harmful effect on the vagus nerve and inflammation of the gut has been linked to causing several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression. Healthy gut function has been linked to normal central nervous system function. Hormones, neurotransmitters and immunological factors released from the gut are known to send signals to the brain either directly or via autonomic neurons. Numerous studies have shown the composition of gut bacteria can have a profound impact on mental health and the functioning of the nervous system. A healthy diet and inclusion of probiotics can play a significant role in shaping the gut microbiome by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria, stopping the accumulation of harmful ones, and preventing “leaky gut”.
General check-up – underlying physical health issues left unaddressed
Preventative health care is becoming commonplace as people become more educated and empowered about their own health. Underlying physical ailments could be affecting your mental wellbeing more than you know. Regular check-ups can help find potential health issues before they become a problem. Early detection gives you the best chance for getting the right treatment quickly, avoiding any complications. Physical health issues emerge when your body is facing mineral, vitamin or hormonal deficiencies often resulting in fatigue, pain and a heightened nervous system which influences how resilient and energised we feel. Factors such as low iron, lack of vitamin D, hormone imbalances, endometriosis, high blood pressure, inflammation, or other issues could be wreaking havoc on your mental wellbeing. It’s always good to see your GP for a regular health check up and overhaul. A qualified medical practitioner can run a series of general tests to catch any serious ailments early and also talk to you about any other feelings of poor mental health you may be experiencing. If they discover hormone issues or low iron are to blame, the course of action could set you up for much more optimistic, brighter and energetic days. As you look to maintain a healthy diet and level of physical activity, by accessing the correct health services for screenings and treatment, you are taking important steps towards living a longer, healthier life.
Meal planning, preparation & budgeting
Now we’ve recommended all these nutritional, diet and lifestyle changes, you might be feeling defeated and that it’s somehow out of reach for the average household. But a balanced, bright, healthy diet does not need to be expensive. If you can fill your trolley with the right foods, shop around at the markets and different shops for specials, and plan your meals for the week; allocating time to prepare and freeze them in advance, you will be surprised how far your dollar stretches and how much better you feel! Self-care doesn’t always need to mean indulging in relaxation or long holidays, it can be as simple in day-to-day life as fuelling your body with what it needs to perform optimally and keep you feeling energised, positive, balanced and content.
Toxins, sugars & alcohol
Studies have shown a link between high sugar diets and depression, and the latest research has found sugar to be an addictive substance for the brain. Alcohol consumption is increasingly being recognised as a contributing factor to emotional, mental and physical health outcomes. Alcohol changes the brain and depletes chemicals which help reduce anxiety naturally, slowing down our central nervous system. Alcohol can negatively affect thoughts, feelings and actions, and contributes to the development of, or worsening of, existing mental health issues over time. Research has found self-medicating your mood with alcohol or frequently turning to that wine or beer at the end of a difficult day to relax can increase your likelihood of alcohol dependence, and in the long-term, can contribute to increased stress, anxiety and depression.
Breakfast REALLY is the most important meal of the day
Did you know starting your day eating the right combination of fats and protein means cortisol (our stress hormone) doesn't rise too high throughout the day to levels which impact your anxiety and stress responses. Cortisol plays a number of roles in the body including regulating sleep cycles, reducing inflammation, increasing blood sugar, managing how the body uses carbohydrates, fats and proteins and controls blood pressure. When you're in a stressful situation, cortisol is the key to managing our flight or fight instincts, as a protective mechanism. However over supply of cortisol creates stress in the body. Going all day on an empty stomach or surviving on coffee all morning may unintentionally affect your ability to deal with stress, challenges and adversity later in the day. So set yourself up at the start of the day for the best frame of mind all day. Foods which raise cortisol levels include alcohol, caffeine, sugar, simple carbs and soft drinks. Foods which lower cortisol and combat stress include proteins with high B vitamins, such as beef, chicken, eggs; omega-3 fatty acids found in avocados, fish, olive oil and walnuts; magnesium rich foods and probiotic-rich and fermented foods such as kombucha, Greek yoghurt and kimchi.
Stretching & breathing
All exercise can boost your mood by lowering levels of stress hormones, increasing the production of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins, and bringing more oxygenated blood to your brain. But yoga may have additional benefits. It can affect mood by elevating levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is associated with better mood and decreased anxiety. Meditation also reduces activity in the limbic system – the part of the brain dedicated to emotions. As your emotional reactivity diminishes, you have a more tempered response when faced with stressful situations. Yoga strengthens the body and the mind, while prompting you to focus on your breathing. Taking long, slow and steady breaths has been shown to calm the body down, by sending signals to the nervous system. These deep breaths manage our stress responses to help decrease anxiety, fear, racing thoughts and a rapid heartbeat. Control your breathing, relax your body and control your mind.
Sleep & rest
Good sleep is essential for improving every function of your mind and body. But sleep alone will not protect your mental health. The power of rest throughout the day to accompany a good night’s sleep is also critical. According to the latest research, there are seven types of rest we need including physical, mental, emotional, sensory, creative and spiritual rest. People have different sleep needs at different stages of their lives (looking at you toddlers!) and different circadian rhythms which influence their sleep habits, preferred bed-time and optimal windows of productivity in the day, as you might be familiar with the recently coined lion, bear, wolf and dolphin chronotypes.
Medications, vitamins & supplements
People can be prescribed medication by qualified mental health and medical professionals to help treat serious, persistent and complex mental health issues. If you have been prescribed medication for a mental health diagnosis, then it’s a personal decision and choice between you and your healthcare provider team to determine if it’s right for you at that moment in your life. For some, medication can really help restore their quality of life, enabling better participation in the community and workforce, while others may prefer to use a combination of coping strategies and methods, alongside prescribed medication to manage symptoms. It’s good to do your research and discover what works for you. What works for one person, may not be the right course of action for you and what helps at certain stages of your life may also evolve.