Here at Sea to Sky Thrivers, we are trying to show the world how the whole body is linked. A disease might result in a specific symptom, in a specific area – but lifestyle diseases are manifestations of multiple factors of poor health, affecting the whole body. A high fat, protein and sugar diet, lacking the essentials might result in heart disease, or diabetes, or cancer, but the underlying cause is the same – deficiencies and excesses. It is only by focusing on healing the body as a whole entity, that we can bring ourselves back into balance and rediscover complete health. And this, my dears, includes the mind.
As no stranger to bouts of inconveniently incapacitating anxiety myself, and having grown up with family members suffering depression, I know the importance of taking care of your whole self. Whether it’s chronic stress, emotional or disordered eating, self-esteem issues, or even depression, bipolarity or compulsive disorders, everybody has at some stage felt some sort of strain on their mental health. It’s surprisingly common and yet frustratingly taboo.
With mental health having been linked to B vitamin deficiencies, excess sugar, antioxidants, omega 3 balance, genetics, inactivity, over-activity, lack of sleep, too much sleep and so much more, it’s no wonder it can be tough to keep on top of things sometimes – but the evidence is clear. Mental health is in part a lifestyle condition.
WHAT CAN I DO?
A large number of studies have now been published linking mental health with poor diet, in both adults and adolescents (1) where many mental health problems can manifest. Modern research has demonstrated that low-fat, low-refined grains, low sugar and high plant-food content diets support mental health (2). Reducing sugar consumption, especially, can reduce the risk of mental health problems (3). Increasing your intake of B-vitamins (from diet, rather than supplements), omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants from fresh vegetables have been demonstrated to help the brain.
The link between exercise and mental health has been well explored in the past years (4). This study (5) reviewed several others to find that physical exercise has positive benefits on both physical and mental health. It can be very daunting, but even starting off slow and going for a walk can help. Do what you can each day, and don’t forget to be kind to yourself on the days that you can’t.
A bit of a no-brainer here, but we can’t stress enough how important it is to get enough sleep! With busy lifestyles, insomnia, kids waking you at 3 am, or even physical health challenges keeping you awake it’s tough to take the time you need. But don’t skimp on the amount of sleep you need to rest your hard-working brain and allow it to reach its full potential, or it can swiftly start to bring you down.
Personally, I find that if I sleep less than 8 hours or more than 9, I am much more prone to anxiety, depression and a somewhat fiery temper. I have to monitor my little 8.5hr window pretty carefully! You might find you need more, or less – but make sure you’re getting the amount you need, and once you find that amount, stick to it.
Here’s a blog from our friends at The Green Moustache about stress. It’s often talked about – less often understood. Watch this great talk by Kelly McGonigal to learn how you can make stress work for you and your mental health. It’s not about avoiding stress. Let’s be realistic, that’s impossible. It’s about approaching it right – looking at your body’s stress reaction as it’s way of preparing you to meet a challenge and absolutely smash it!
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
We save this one for last because it’s the most important. When you’re running around after a family, or after a career, or even just trying to keep up with your friends, it’s very easy to forget to prioritise yourself. You have so many more important things to do – but if you burn out, you’ll get a lot less done! Luckily, there are some great strategies for taking a time out and reconnecting with yourself mentally.
First off, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you’d treat your best friend. If they came to you, tired and overwhelmed, struggling with depression or anxiety, you’d tell them to rest, you’d offer kind words, and you’d tell them it wasn’t their fault. You deserve nothing less than that from yourself.
Meditation is a wonderful tool, used for centuries to bring awareness to your present self, to calm and centre yourself, identify emotions and the causes of them. Being truly mindful, you can learn to recognise how to control the negative feelings, and embrace positivity. To get started, try guided meditations on YouTube, or try The Oracle in Whistler for a supply of books on the subject.
Visioning is another wonderful way to focus and clarify your mind and soul, whether for mental healing or to bring your life toward a certain direction. Here’s a great how-to.
Figure out your coping mechanisms. Personally, my go-to is a good sort-out or a deep clean – it gives me something to focus on, fills me with a sense of accomplishment and is sneakily making me do at least a little exercise, which is of course wonderful for the brain. If you’re not feeling up to that, try thinking up a project, a crafting activity, or planning a redecoration. All you need is a laptop and Pinterest!
If you find something helps or distracts you from negativity, try and figure out what part of it helped, and apply it to other activities.
But most importantly, never be afraid to take the time and space that you need to heal, and to ask for help from somebody you trust. Mental health has been heavily stigmatised in the past, but it is really much more common than we realise. Talk to somebody – you’ll be surprised how many people relate.
Loneliness is not only a huge cause of stress in our society these days, but it also has links to physical disease. Spending time with someone you trust can work magic – our stress response is designed to seek out support, as Kelly McGonigal points out in her talk. Always seek out help.
For more on that, read this awesome CEO’s response to an employee who took a sick day for mental health. That boss knows what’s up.
If you want to try something new, check out these amazing apps designed to help out with mental health.