7 Lifestyle Changes for Mental Health

As we get ingrained in our day to day lives. making ends meat and looking after dependents, our own mental health is something that is often overlooked.

I noticed this when my parents were caring for my dying grandparents; they carried on working, supported my Brother and I, cared for my Grandparents (with the help of my Auntie & Uncle), but it was evident that they stopped doing a lot of things that were beneficial for their own mental health. Does this sound familiar?

Here are 7 Lifestyle changes for your mental health

It is important to be mindful that depression and anxiety may entice us to do the opposite of these lifestyle changes. Learning to say “no” to your depression and anxiety is tough, but it will help with recovery.

– Enjoyable Activities –

Getting caught up with our busy lives or dealing with depression and anxiety can encourage us to withdraw from our enjoyable activities. What do you enjoy doing? For me this is being outdoors, reading, baking a cake or throwing a tea party. Whatever you enjoy (if it is legal) keep doing it or find time to do it.

– Sleep –

Hands up if you struggle to sleep?

If you are busy in your day to day life, this can cause you to not switch off when it comes to bed time; this leads to trouble falling and staying asleep. Does the cycle below look familiar to you? Additionally, The Sleep Foundation confirm that Anxiety and Depression can be causes of sleep deprivation.

For fellow anxiety and depression sufferers, it can be hard to fall asleep or stay asleep; mind racing, continually on fight or flight mode and then the lack of sleep can heighten the feelings that anxiety and depression bring. Mind.org.uk (the Mental Health Charity) remind us that sleep is required for bodily repair, general health and mental function. Mind also give some tips on sleep (click here).

To be as fresh as a daisy, I do the following when aiming to sleep at 22.30: don’t use my phone or laptop for 1 hour before bed, reading in bed, open the window for a cool ventilated bedroom, no caffeine after 6pm, no food 2 hours before bed.

– Keep in touch –

Isolating yourself is a key symptom of depression and when anxious, you may want to avoid going out. Making time to socialise is key for recovery and mental wellness. What do you do with your mates that makes you laugh? Drinking tea and having a natter, playing football or going for a walk? Whatever it is, don’t forget it and keep doing it.

– Avoid Alcohol and Drug Misuse –

Leading a busy lifestyle or job can sometimes cause alcohol and drug misuse. In some areas (especially where I’m from), alcohol is a massive part of the culture and “having a laugh”. I cut out alcohol as it induced panic attacks and next day anxiety. Drink Aware confirm that alcohol can worsen anxiety and depression. There could be instances where people use alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism for life events, but again Recovery First state that a person who abuses substances may develop depression. If possible, it is better to seek other coping strategies which can be highlighted by your health care professional.

– Healthy Eating –

Who loves chocolate cake and ice cream or chocolate with a cup of tea? Today I was munching the last of my chocolate Easter egg with a cup of tea. For the first 30 minutes or so after eating it, I felt elated. Then… easily agitated. This is a typical example of sugar spikes. Anxiety and depression can encourage an unbalanced diet. Beyond Blue confirm that diet is key for sustaining mental and physical health and that eating a well-balanced diet can give people a sense of well-being. As a rule of thumb, I try to ensure that my diet consists of the right amounts of grains, fruit, veg, dairy, protein and fats along with drinking 2l of water a day. When you drive a car, you ensure it has the correct fuel; this is the same for your body. You should fuel your body to deal with a journey ahead (mental, physical or emotional challenges). This differs from person to person; therefore, speak to a nutritionist for further details for you.

– Exercise –

A hectic lifestyle, can be exhausting and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety can make us feel exhausted, unmotivated and want to stay indoors, but on the contrary, exercise can make you feel energetic and motivated. Mind charity promote that physical activity is a benefit of mental health and wellbeing. They also confirm that physical and mental health are closely linked. When I get home from a day in the mountains, or cycling to town or from a run, I feel generally happier, energetic and very motivated. To help break the vicious anxious or depression cycle, I make a deal with myself; that I will do 15 minutes of a chosen exercise activity. Are there things you already enjoy or would like to try?

– Stress management –

Stress can decrease our ability to enjoy life and it can heighten anxiety and depression. Helpguide.org provide some great self-help tips for managing stress. In addition to exercise and connecting with people, the main changes I made were saying no, not trying to control things I can’t control, seeing opportunity in challenges and creating a schedule that fits for me and expressing my feelings. It’s a win-win strategy!

Accompanying with lifestyle changes you can also think about where you’d like to carry out your lifestyle changes, such as exercise and doing enjoyable activities. It is important to pick somewhere that you feel comfortable and be mindful that there are links between mental wellbeing and nature, which in combination with treatment can positively impact anxiety and depression.

Nature

A recent study was by Kings College London, they researched the relationship between nature in cities and momentary wellbeing in real time. They state “being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsongs, seeing the sky and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing”

This research confirms why I devote much of my time being outdoors and promoting it. In addition to witnessing first-hand the correlation between the outdoors and my mental wellbeing, it has opened doors to new sports that are a huge part of my life (hiking, ski touring, via ferratas). Through this I met my wife and we now do these activities together. With her support, we made considerations for my anxiety and started on easier activities first then worked up to harder ones.

Nature = Happy

By challenging how you feel, you can open doors to new opportunities and view the world in a different light: if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

Love and peace

Sarah

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