We are nearing the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, so I thought I’d compile a list of Healthy Food Guide’s top 5 tips to keep your mind, spirit and body in top shape, to make it easier to weather what life throws at you
- Foster an optimistic outlook. Obviously, mental illness is not simply a case of negative thinking, and telling someone who is depressed, for instance, to just ‘think more positively’ would be unhelpful. But there is evidence that people who think optimistically may fare better through trauma and highly stressful events, such natural disasters or acts of violence. One way to cultivate an optimistic mindset is by regularly imagining your life in the future exactly as you would like it to be.
- Manage stress but don’t avoid it entirely. We tend to think of stress as something terrible that ruins our health, but that’s not exactly true. We need some stress to motivate us to get things done and progress ourselves (think exams, sports games or deadlines). The real problem is too much stress. When we are chronically stressed, and don’t have things in place to reduce those levels, our physical and mental health can suffer. The trick is to embrace some stress, but use tools, like exercise, meditation or being in nature, to keep our levels in check.
- Feed your body and your brain. Nutritional deficiencies can affect mental and physical health. For instance, evidence shows people with anxiety may have a lowered antioxidant state, so regularly consuming antioxidant-rich foods, such as berries, vegetables, nuts and green and black teas, is a way to lift those levels. There is also emerging evidence of the connection between gut health and mood disorders. A gut-friendly diet includes prebiotic foods, such as green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes and pasta, asparagus, leeks, legumes and whole grains, to name a few, as well as probiotic foods such as kombucha, yoghurt and pickled vegetables. Eating foods rich in B12, iron and omega-3 fatty acids is also essential to keeping your brain functioning at its best.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity is not only essential for your body and brain to keep working well, it can release ‘happy hormones’ and combat stress. Moving your body regularly is one of the best ways to lift your mental state. The trick is to choose activities you enjoy. That way you’re more likely to get out there and do them often. Try dancing, gardening, playing sports with friends or going somewhere beautiful for a walk.
- Connect with people. Keeping your social life active, by meeting up with friends and loved ones on a regular basis, is key to staying resilient. Humans are social creatures and we’re wired to feel better when we connect with others. You can also combine socialising with other mental health-boosting activities such as exercise, cooking a healthy meal or volunteering your time to help others. And if you don’t like people you can always socialise with your pets!