When someone is assessed for a mental health condition like depression and anxiety, treatments usually include some sort of therapy and medication, but much of the time small lifestyle changes aren’t included in the conversation about how to better our mental health.
In a 2015 study by the University of Illinois, it was found that around half of the people with mental health illnesses receive no wellness advice from a mental health professional, which are generally as simple as eating healthier and exercising more.
Little changes can have a big impact on the quality of life for anybody, but especially for those with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and more, and lead to a decreased chance of getting diabetes cardiovascular diseases.
Eat better and start moving more
Leafy green veggies, legumes, lean red meat and seafood all provide nutrients that optimize our brain functions, and are higher in magnesium, zinc and essential fatty acids. Berries, tea and dark chocolate also play an important role in our brain functions and reduce stress.
Foods that are high in fat can increase levels of anxiety, depression and brain inflammation and sugary snacks should only have a minimal place in your diet because they increase feelings of depression.
It is recommended that people get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity over the course of a week, but even short periods of activity, like running, swimming and playing recreational sports, all add up. Exercise that takes place outside and with others in a social situation and increase mental wellbeing even further, reports a University of Essex study.
Limit alcohol and smoking
Both alcohol and drugs impact mental health negatively and open people consuming them up for higher risk of mental health issues than others. Limiting the amount of alcohol is beneficial for preventing depression and validates the recent reduction in alcohol guidance for the UK.
Quitting smoking is a big step, but smokers are in a constant withdrawal-craving cycle which negatively impacts mood. Not only is it bad for your physical health, but quitting gives you more energy, lessens stress levels, improves sense of taste and leads to better skin, according to the NHS.
Go outside more often
We all seem to feel happier when the sun is shining and that’s because it boosts our levels of serotonin, a mood-maintaining chemical found in our bodies. Vitamin D, which has an impact on regulating our sleep-wake cycle, can lead to better mental health too.
By regulating the amount of time we spend in front of screens, we can cut down on harmful toxins and chemicals, improve vision and decrease levels of depression. High social media usage is linked with low self-esteem, poor sleep and lower attention spans and increases feelings of anxiety and sadness.
Improve your sleep quality
The best way to improve sleep quality is to start a nighttime routine that we constantly do when we go to bed — something so that our bodies recognize its time to catch some sleep and recharge for the next day. This means going to bed and getting up at a consistent time, avoiding heavy meals before bed, trying relaxation techniques such as meditation and ditching the late-night Netflix marathons.
Poor sleep has many negative effects and studies show that fatigue makes it more difficult to eat healthy, is linked to obesity and can make mental health illnesses worse.
It’s important to not force sleep — if you can’t sleep after 20-30 minutes, it might be best to get up and focus on an activity with minimal light and stimulation until you feel tired.
Get help if you need it
Changes to lifestyle aren’t meant to replace medication or professional support and should be used alongside these treatments. Making lifestyle changes can be difficult because of a sense of guilt if goals aren’t met, which means it’s important to go easy on yourself if you’re unable to stick to a diet or exercise regime.
Just take a moment to see how you feel mentally after a healthy meal, a night of good sleep or a walk outside.