May is Mental Health Month, a month geared toward raising awareness and educating the public on topics many people aren’t well educated on. Millions of Americans suffer from mental health related issues whether it’s anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, or other related conditions.
Mental health is a topic many people feel the need to keep to be silent about due to stigma, sharing about their anxiety or depression doesn’t seem to be the same as sharing about a physical condition. Mental illness seems to be something people are afraid to share about and want to keep to themselves, for fear of how people will react and ultimately afraid of what others will think of them. Rather than a physical condition, mental illness is “invisible” people can’t see what is going on so it’s hard to explain and understand.
Lately, many organizations and inspiring individuals are creating more awareness and opening up about mental health topics, which has created a chain reaction of others opening up. More of an emphasis is being put on taking care of your ‘whole self’ physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. A larger focus is being put on practicing mindfulness, relaxation, and self-care each and every day rather than once a month or every few months.
Diet and Nutrition
Did you know the food you eat can impact your mental health? Mental illnesses seem to becoming more prevalent, so is obesity, is there a link? It’s possible! Poor diets full of saturated fats, high sugar, and processed foods can lead to not only heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, but poor mental health as well. Research has shown that consuming a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and lentils reduces the risk of developing depression.
Vitamin D is an important vitamin that plays a role in optimal brain functioning which includes mood. Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, but during the winter months our exposure to sunlight is decreased. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression; this explains why some people experience seasonal depression during the winter months. Be sure to get plenty of fish, eggs, fortified cereals, and dairy products in your diet to ensure your vitamin D levels are adequate.
The B vitamins are another important group that help regulate neurotransmitters in the brain. Those with low B12 levels could be at an increased risk to develop depression. B vitamins are found in leafy green vegetables, whole grains, fish, and eggs.
Along with Vitamin D and the B vitamins, magnesium is very important and one of the most essential minerals in the human body, connected with brain biochemistry. According to the The National Center for Biotechnology Information a variety of neuromuscular and psychiatric symptoms, including different types of depression, was observed in magnesium deficiency.
Fact: Every cell in your body contains magnesium and needs it to function.
Foods that are a good source of magnesium include whole grains, rice and wheat bran, nuts, seeds, chocolate, peanuts, peanut butter and green leafy vegetables.
Fact: Every year as many as 8 million Americans with serious mental illness don’t receive adequate treatment.
Including regular physical activity in your routine can keep your heart healthy, help you maintain a healthy weight, strong bones, prevent disease, and also create a healthy mind! Regular exercise has been shown to lower a person’s risk for depression, panic disorder, and phobias. As little as one hour of exercise a week has been linked to lower levels of mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Even short 10-minute chunks of vigorous exercise at a time contains benefits for your mental health. “What can you accomplish in only 10 minutes?” Set a timer for 10 minutes. Pick 3-4 exercises from the list below, decide on a number of repetitions (10-20) and do one exercise after another until the timer goes off! You’ll be surprised what you can do in only 10 minutes!
Star jumps Mountain climbers
Bicycle crunches Glute Bridges
Jumping jacks Plank
(Ex: 10 squats, 20 mountain climbers, 10 V-ups, 25 glute bridges. Repeat one exercise after another, minimal rest, until 10 minutes is up.)
Fact: Half of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% develop by age 24.
The Gut-Brain Connection
The gut is often referred to as the “second brain,” why is this? First off, during fetal development the gut is developed from the same tissue as our central nervous system, so they both share a lot in common. Secondly, they constantly communicate back and forth. More and more research is being done on the gut microbiome and its connection to mental health. Research has found that there is a connection between changes and inflammation in the gut microbiome and symptoms of Parkinson’s, autism, depression, and anxiety. It’s important to eat a healthy balanced diet, reduce your consumption of soft drinks, and processed foods and be sure to get plenty of probiotics and prebiotics to make your gut happy.
Fact: 1 in 5 adults experience a mental health condition every year, and 1 in 17 has a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Not only do you feel like a zombie with lack of sleep, but your mental health can be jeopardized as well with too little sleep. Sleep is so important and being well rested is important for optimal health. When we sleep it gives our body an opportunity to re-energize cells and clear away toxins. Those who consistently struggle to sleep well at night are at an increased risk for problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Sleep affects the body as a whole, getting plenty of sleep is required for the health of our organs, immune system, hormones, ability to learn, and moods.
Tips for getting a good night sleep:
-Don’t nap too late in the day.
-Limit caffeine to the morning if you find you struggle to fall asleep at night.
-Try and avoid exercising 2-3 hours before bed.
-Say no to nicotine!
-Try and go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, talk to your doctor.
Fact: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
We all know what it feels like to be stressed, not a fun feeling. Stressing over finances, your job, relationships, and just life in general. Your body responds to stress in ways such as elevating the blood pressure, heartrate, and breathing. While elevating those things, chemical signals are sent out signaling to slow down other body functions such as digestion, growth, and the immune system. This chronic stress leads to inflammation that doesn’t go away. You can probably guess what the consequences are when stress becomes chronic. You become run down, fatigued, your immune system is weakened, and your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer is increased. Short term stress that comes and goes is healthy, it’s the chronic long-term stress that isn’t healthy. We need to remember we are all human! We can’t do everything, and we aren’t perfect.
Tips for handling stress:
-Know when to say enough is enough. Don’t take on more than you can truly handle.
-Vent when you need to.
-Have a close group of friends/ family you can turn to when the stress gets overwhelming.
-Breathe! Take a few minutes to just relax and breathe.
-Find a hobby you enjoy.
-Exercise. Take a walk outside and enjoy nature. Try yoga to help you relax.
Mental health matters and it’s time to break the stigma. If you are struggling, get help. There are so many great resources out there. Don’t isolate yourself, find a support group, and speak out against stigma! You are not weak for seeking help, you are STRONG.