Lifestyle Changes To Help your Mental Health
The term “mental health” refers to the overall emotional, mental, and even behavioural wellbeing. To have “good” mental health generally means you are able to handle your emotions, interpersonal relationships, and make well-informed, constructive decisions. Poor mental health generally refers to an impairment of any one of the facets of mental health. Mental health conditions can occur as a result of genetics (family history) and/or various life experiences, such as trauma, abuse, or even major changes in your life’s routines.
Why Might You Want to Improve Mental Health With Different Strategies?
Generally mental health conditions are treated with medication and/or talk therapy. However, many people are not satisfied with their current mental health management. This can be due to a number of possibilities including:
- Intolerable side effects from medication
- Not yet able to find a medication that works for you completely
- Lack of complete response to therapy or a medication/therapy combination
This is not a recommendation to replace therapy and/or medication for lifestyle changes, especially for more severe mental health conditions. Even with effective medication and talk therapy you might need additional management. That is where the lifestyle changes are best suited as an adjunctive method to manage your mental health symptoms.
Time management can mean different things for different people. For some it may mean having a daily routine, for other fitting your daily activities together.
- The presence of a daily routine
Having a regular routine can allow you to create a calming lifestyle and maintain healthy habits, such as sleep and meal schedules. This maintenance of a routine is thought to reduce stress, improve work and personal relationships, and even allow you to be more adaptable to change.
- The ability for your daily activities to fit together
Many people try to “overbook” themselves and then feel overwhelmed and disheartened when they don’t manage to get everything done each day. Therefore, trying to appropriately gauge how much you are able to get done in one day can allow you to not only get more done, but to feel better about what you have accomplished.
- Being able to resist the distraction of others
Sometimes it can feel difficult to say “no” to people when they ask you for a favour, even if you’re busy. However, it is important to ensure you are able to manage your own time before you take on the tasks of others too.
Does improving your time management actually lead to improved mental health?
Multiple studies have found a relationship between organized time management and improved mental health such as anxiety, depression, and general wellbeing. Interestingly, even if more “work” does not get done, this organization still leads to improved mood and mental health. It therefore seems like the organization in itself may be the most beneficial to mental wellbeing.
How Regular Exercise Can Help You
Exercise is a large part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle physically and mentally. It has a huge impact on reduction of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Exercise can also help regulate mood and mental health.
Aerobic exercise has been studied as a potential additional therapy for mental health management. Exercises like bicycling, swimming, and even walking can be beneficial for brain function and release the “feel good” hormones. This isn’t to say that exercise could be a complete replacement for other treatments like medication and psychotherapy, but it does seem to provide additional benefits in improving metal health, for both depressive and anxiety disorders.
Different forms of exercise, such as yoga, have also been thought to improve mental health conditions. Since yoga involves the combination of both mental and physical components, it can reduce stress and improve your mental health. Various studies have indicated that regular practice of yoga may increase hormones and neurotransmitters that reduce the symptoms of mental health conditions, specifically depression.
Consumption of Stimulating Substances
Increased caffeine consumption is associated with more severe anxiety and depression symptoms. It can’t be confirmed that the caffeine leads to worse mental health, or those with worse mental health conditions may rely more heavily on.
- Other stimulants (methamphetamines)
There have also been studies investigating the association between certain illicit substances (such as methamphetamines) and worsened mental health. It seems very likely that increased illicit stimulant use is associated with worsened mental health outcomes, specifically depression. While the evidence for this link is not as clear and well defined, it is definitely something to consider.
Maintaining a Healthy Diet
Many studies have shown a beneficial relationship between a healthy diet and mental health, specifically with depression. Even when there are variations in what constitutes a “healthy” diet, these positive effects remained. In general, the basics of a healthy diet include many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting high fat and salty foods. However, there are also specific foods that have been linked to benefiting mental health conditions.
What are some components of a “mentally-healthy” diet?
- Vitamins and minerals
Consumption of a sufficient amount of the vitamins and minerals magnesium, folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin E have been linked to improved mental health conditions, such as depression. This is thought to be due to improved brain function, and therefore an increased capacity for your brain to process mood, emotions, and behaviour.
- Non-inflammatory foods
Studies show there is a link between inflammation and mental health disorders. Consuming anti-inflammatory can help improve your health. Such anti-inflammatory foods include various vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oils.
The Key Could Be a Good Sleep
It’s well known that mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders, are exacerbated by sleep disturbances. Sleep disturbances can be classified as a difficulty falling asleep, waking up multiple times in the night, and/or waking up without feeling refreshed. This goes both ways, as worsened mental health can lead to sleep difficulties, but also sleep difficulties can worsen mental health. This is because “good” sleep is required for regular thought processes and decision making, which is often at a deficit with certain mental health conditions.
Many studies have shown this link between sleep and mental health, as well as the benefits that improved sleep has on improving mental health. While the improvements are generally small, they are consistent.
How can I use sleep to improve my mental health?
- Develop a sleep schedule
Your body works well on routine, so going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday can help you to get a consistent amount of sleep. This can help you feel tired near your set bedtime and wake up feeling.
- Create a calm sleep environment
Allowing your bed to be a calm environment can help you to feel more restful when going to sleep. This can also include limiting time on electronic devices before sleep to promote relaxation.
- Watch what you consume before bed
Products such as cigarettes, caffeine, and alcohol can all make it more difficult to fall asleep and/or decrease your quality of sleep. Reduce your intake of these substances especially close to bed to improve your quality of sleep.
- Limit naps
If you are tired during the day due to a lack of sleep at night, this can actually perpetuate the issue. Getting sleep during the day can make you less tired at night, and lead to increased tiredness during the day. This is a cycle that is best addressed by limiting daytime naps, and therefore improving your sleep at night.
- Get daily physical exercise
Physical exercise is not only good for your health but can also make you more tired at night. It is best to get the exercise during the day, and not too close to when you sleep, as it does give you temporary energy
Even just small changes can make a big difference to your overall physical and mental wellbeing. If you feel like you need help getting started on any of these changes, speak with your healthcare provider about which steps may be best for you to begin with.
Mental Health Disorders
There are many different mental health conditions that all manifest with different changes in emotions, behaviours, and/or interpersonal relationships.
Mood disorders are mental health conditions that affect your mood, energy, emotions, and decision making. This includes conditions such as major depressive disorder, seasonal affected disorder, post-partum depression, and bipolar disorders. Mood disorders typically involve some timeframe of persistently low mood (characterized as a lack of interest/pleasure in activities you typically enjoy, changes in your sleep and eating habits, etc) and/or unusually “high” moods (characterized by abnormally increased energy and activity, participation in potentially dangerous activities, etc.).
Anxiety disorders are distinct mental health conditions characterized by persistent and inappropriately excessive worries about events that would not typically warrant such responses. This includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder, among others. The inappropriate worries can manifest in different ways and in varying situations, based on the specific condition.
Typical Treatment For Mental Health Conditions
Most mental health conditions are treated with a combination of medication management and talk therapy. There are many different medications and types of therapies available. The specific combination of therapy will differ based on each individual and their particular needs. However, sometimes it may be difficult to find this combination and/or you may need additional management even with appropriate typical interventions.
- What is mental health? (2022) What Is Mental Health? | MentalHealth.gov. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health (Accessed: January 3, 2023).
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- Aeon, B., Faber, A., & Panaccio, A. (2021). Does time management work? A meta-analysis. PloS one, 16(1), e0245066. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245066
- Woodyard C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International journal of yoga, 4(2), 49–54. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.85485
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