October is Mental Health Awareness Month and this whole month is dedicated to not only educating the public about mental health but also to reducing the stigma around mental illness.
So, we’re using this as an opportunity to talk mental health. Often, we’re asked ‘What can you do to keep your mind healthy?’ To answer this common question, we’ve pulled together our top tips:
It has been found that high expectations are linked to high performance. In psychology, this is known as the ‘Pygmalion effect’. Several studies found that children who weren’t expected to achieve very much, gave up and didn’t reach their full potential. Whereas, children who were set high standards and believed that they could achieve them, met or exceeded expectations.
Psychologists also tell us that by learning and practising positive thinking, it becomes more and more part of our natural thought process, consequently increasing our wellbeing and happiness.
A balanced diet is good for our physical health, but it also helps our mental health. In fact, the president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, Felice Jacka, says:
“A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”
So, there you have it, a good diet helps to keep your mind healthy. To be more specific, these five foods are known to help improve mental health:
1. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel
Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are said to make us more stable. This is because of the effect omega-3 has on the production of brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.
2. Whole wheat products like bulgur wheat, oats, wild rice and beans
Glucose, which comes from carbohydrates, provides the brain with energy. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are found in sugary products and while they give the body an instant spike of energy, this doesn’t last and can cause a downward crash. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and are a steady source of fuel.
3. Lean protein
Like fatty fish, lean protein helps keep serotonin levels balanced thereby reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
4. Leafy greens
High in folic acid, leafy greens prevent a folate deficiency which is linked to higher rates of depression, fatigue and insomnia.
5. Probiotic yoghurt
Scientists have found that probiotic yoghurt reduces depression and anxiety. Our gut is full of bacteria, and while this plays a role in digestion, scientists have also found that these microbes can alter our brain chemistry. So, it makes sense that probiotic yoghurt, which is full of good bacteria, could have a positive effect on our brain.
Get 7 – 9 hours sleep
As adults, we need between seven and nine hours sleep a night in order to be at our cognitive peak each day. This is because when we sleep, our brain consolidates everything we have learnt that day and makes sense of information. So, do your best to get a good night’s sleep.
Being mindful means recognising and accepting your emotions, as well as being aware of what triggers certain feelings.
One way to be mindful is to be in the present moment and ‘watch’ your thoughts. Don’t get ‘trapped’ in past problems or start worrying about future issues that don’t exist. We know this is easier said than done and we understand that worry is something that is unavoidable at times, so we suggest having a ‘worry half-hour’ each day. By planning in a worry window every day and compartmentalising worries to just this time, scientists have actually found anxiety levels can be reduced.
Research has shown that physical exercise releases chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. It’s recommend that we do at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. To make this easier, we suggest making exercise part of your routine so that it becomes a natural part of your day. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean running or going to the gym, it can simply mean walking or gardening.
While physical exercise helps keep your mind well, like any muscle, your brain also needs exercise to stay fit, healthy and happy. Here’s some simple exercises that you may even do already:
• Crosswords, scrabble and word puzzles
• Simple mental arithmetic (without a calculator!)
‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ is a popular saying and this is probably because research tells us that talking about our feelings is one way of staying mentally healthy.
Often, when you try to describe your feelings out loud, they seem more manageable. But if this is not the case, then guaranteed you will feel some comfort from having someone listen to you and offer support.
We hope our six tips to having a healthy mind have been helpful. If you have any other health-related queries, our support team include trained and qualified nurses who are happy to listen so please feel free to get in touch.
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