May is Mental Health Month
May brings the official start to Mental Health Awareness Month. What is “Mental Health”? Mental Health is defined as “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.”
The past year has brought Mental Health to the forefront for everyone. We have dealt with many changes in our lives, our families, and in the ordinary business of doing “life” as we know it. The world has changed, and it has been a difficult adaptation for many of us.
How to Improve your Mental Health
Mental Health America tells us that one way to feel more in control of our environment is to focus on our routines. The MHA states that “People with more daily routines have lower levels of distress when facing problems with their health or negative life events.”
The American Heart Association states that “When it comes to diet, sleep and exercise, having good, strong routines is linked to improved mental and physical health.”
One of the routines that often gets abruptly overturned in times of stress is our nutrition, and that is because there is such a dynamic connection between the food you eat and your mental health. This has to do with the effect of certain foods on mood chemicals in the body called neurotransmitters and the effect of those same foods on inflammation. Certain foods can impact the number of neurotransmitters in your brain that directly affect how you feel. Stress eating becomes a cycle of highs and lows of these neurotransmitters, and your mood and mental health suffer because of it. High sugar foods, processed foods, cakes, candy, chips, and other so-called comfort foods boost the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. These same foods trigger massive inflammation, which studies show is directly related to depression.
Recent science shows us that people who eat a Mediterranean Diet, one that is rich in seafood, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, cut their risk of depression by almost 50% regardless of education and economic status.
Other studies have found that those who regularly eat processed and high sugar foods were 60% more likely to develop depression over a five-year period.
Harvard University directly linked a high sugar, high processed food diet with levels of inflammatory cytokines and depression. They then found that implementing a Mediterranean Diet (low inflammatory diet) rich in leafy greens, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and red wine slashed the risk of depression by 40 percent. Opposed to those who ate a pro-inflammatory diet includes sugary foods drink, processed foods, refined grains, and red meat.
Here are some practical tips for beginning a new routine. You can apply these to any new habit you want to establish. Apply these to your nutrition, exercise, hydration, sleep, and stress management efforts. It will help establish not only new healthy habits but also improve your mental and physical health.
Create a routine that works for you: Many of our routines have changed over the last year with the pandemic. Some of us are struggling and have yet to re-establish a healthy routine with all of the changes in our lives. With new work-from-home schedules, home-school responsibilities, or the absence of your past routines, it’s important to figure out a way to stay in balance.
- Plan: Planning your week and your days is critical to mental health and feeling in control. Plan and prep your food. Plan your workouts. Plan your bedtime. Measure out your water. Plan your self-care. Put it on your to-do list and calendars. It works.
- Begin with small steps: All new habits take time. A popular myth is that new habits take 21 days to form. Real science tells us that it takes an average of 66 days for a habit to be formed.
- Tie the new behavior to an existing behavior: To start, piggyback a new desired routine to an existing routine. For example, you can decide that you want to drink more water each day. A simple way to do this is to tie (piggyback) that desired behavior to different time frames of the day where you already have an established routine. Determine your total amount (half your body weight in fluid ounces). Then break it down- You can drink 10 -16 oz of water when you wake up, before each meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner, at the mid-morning break, afternoon break, and before bed.
- Set Written Goals each week and each day: The saying goes, “If it isn’t written, it isn’t real.” The wonderful thing about accomplishing goals, no matter how small, is that they boost your sense of control, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Make it personal, make it count, and watch how good you feel when you achieve that.
- Reward Yourself: If you accomplish those daily and weekly goals, do something nice for yourself. Treat yourself to some me-time with a good book, a new movie to watch, or some needed rest.
- Schedule Fun: Even if it’s just 15 minutes a day, do something you enjoy doing. A hobby, a walk with your kids for gym time, hike a new trail, or get out on your bike and feel the freedom. Just a few minutes a day will boost feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which help to quell anxiety and reduce stress.
Taking care of your mental health is critical to emotional and physical well-being. Establish a good routine with your healthy habits. Feed a good mood and stave off depression with lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocados.
Remember to reach out to a Rolling Strong Wellness Coach for help in establishing routines and healthy habits. If you feel that your Mental Health is suffering badly, reach out to your doctor or local mental health center for help.
By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP CDL Wellness Coach
“Self-Help Tools.” Mental Health America, www.mhanational.org/self-help-tools.
Barish-Wreden, Maxine L. “Eating Well for Mental Health.” Sutter Health, www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health.
“Is Fast Food Making Us Depressed?” BBC Future, BBC, 26 Aug. 2014, www.bbc.com/future/article/20140826-is-fast-food-making-us-depressed.