In this fast-paced and demanding world, it can be really hard to make looking after ourselves a priority. The temptation to grab a quick bite while we’re out and about (usually high calorie and low nutrition), skip the work-out to squeeze in a few more minutes at our desks, or down a couple of drinks after work to de-stress, can be all too tempting. Add to that the dangerous amounts of time we spend scrolling, swiping and comparing ourselves on social media, and it’s no wonder many of us struggle to feel our best.
While all those little less-than-healthy lifestyle choices might seem fairly harmless at the time, the cumulative effect can be pretty damaging — not only for our physical wellbeing but also for our emotional and mental health.
This Thursday 10 October is World Mental Health Day. We want to take this opportunity to focus on some of the simple, everyday ways you can improve your lifestyle and your wellbeing.
Of course, when it comes to serious depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health disorders, the first person you should be turning to is your GP or other health professionals. But, for everyday ways to improve cognitive function and mental wellbeing, here are some simple things we can do:
Food fuels both our bodies and our minds. We eat nutritious foods so that our bodies can grow, repair, and function well. Much like our body, our brain needs nutritious foods, too.
Foods like whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, fermented foods and oily fish, offer powerful antioxidants, can improve our gut health and can encourage our bodies to produce chemicals that make us feel great. Here is a breakdown on some of the best foods for mental wellbeing
Making changes to your diet can seem hard, especially if you’re short on time. But, once your taste buds have adapted and you’re into the swing of it, you’ll be craving those greens and feeling more energetic.
Physical activity promotes feel-good chemicals into your body like endorphins, serotonin, BDNF and dopamine — the reward chemical. What’s more, a good workout will get that blood pumping to the brain, which helps you to think more clearly.
There’s also a social benefit to working out; joining a gym or attending group classes can help get us out of the house and connect with others, helping us ward off feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Of course, the hardest part is getting started. But once you have got through those first few work-outs and it’s part of your routine, it gets easier and for some, quite addictive!
Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation can have a significant effect on mood. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.
The link between sleep deprivation and our moods, specifically stress and anxiety, seems like a bit of a vicious cycle; poor quality sleep = heightened propensity for stress and high stress = trouble getting good sleep.
Here are some more tips for how to get a better night sleep.
Cutting back on the booze
Although alcohol can make you feel more confident and relaxed, consuming too much too often can have a major impact on mental health.
Because alcohol is a depressant, it slows your body down and changes the chemical makeup in your brain. This can lead to a long list of negative emotional and mental impacts, such as altering mood, energy levels, sleeping patterns, concentration and memory.
While the occasional glass of wine is a-ok, keeping it to a “sometimes treat” rather than every day is definitely the way to go.
Practising daily mindfulness
The history of mindfulness can be traced back for thousands of years with origins in Eastern philosophy, and over the past 40 years, it has become increasingly popular in western societies, too.
The aim of mindfulness practice is to increase awareness so that we can respond to situations with choice rather than react automatically. We do that by practising to become more aware of where our attention is, and deliberately changing the focus of attention, over and over again.
Setting aside just five to ten minutes a day to practise mindfulness has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety, bringing us back to the present moment.