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How our lifestyle can affect our mental wellbeing

Mental Health Awareness Week is a fantastic opportunity to open-up conversations around mental wellbeing including what we can do to keep ourselves mentally well or to manage a condition we, or someone we know, is already dealing with.

​The current cost of mental ill health in the UK is almost £100 billion a year and rising. Typically, mental health conditions are treated with medication and potentially some form of therapy once diagnosed, but evidence is now mounting that our lifestyles specifically our diets, sleep and physical activity can have a significant impact on our mental wellbeing and can often contribute towards successful treatment of certain mental health conditions.

Sleep

Sleep is closely linked to our mental wellbeing but unfortunately this is often under-recognised. Sleep is essential for our survival and for our brain and bodies to regenerate. When it comes to mental wellbeing it can be a bit of a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep can lead to anxiety, worsen symptoms of depression and potentially trigger bi-polar episodes. Reversely having anxiety, depression and some other mental health conditions can contribute to lack of quality sleep.

Considering this impact, ask yourself if you do think you are having a good night sleep and if not, there is plenty we can all do to address it. More information on coping with sleep problems including tips for making improvements can be found on the Mind website.

Nutrition

Our brains are made up largely of essential fatty acids, water and nutrients and are very sensitive to what we eat and drink. We have four neurotransmitters in our brains that need to be balanced in order for us to feel mentally well including dopamine and adrenaline. When these neurotransmitters are out of balance symptoms ranging from sleep problems to anxiety can occur. The topic of nutrition,our brains and mental health is a vast one, but studies have shown that there are foods which can both help and hinder the brain chemistry:

Foods that can have a negative effect on the brain

Trans-fats found in processed foods/excess saturated fats/fried foods/excess sugars or artificial sweeteners

Foods that help to nourish the brain

Wild fish/organic free-range eggs/organic fruit and veg/dark green veg/seeds and nuts/lean organic chicken/anti-oxidant rich foods such as fresh fruit and veg, nuts and seeds.

You can find more information on nutrition and mental health on the Mental Health Foundation website.

Physical activity

Physical activity is essentially moving our bodies to expel energy. There are so many ways we can do this from daily walks, playing in the park, gym classes, yoga at home, going for a run etc. Physical activity is essential for our health in general but it has also been shown to have a significant impact on our sense of mental wellbeing and is often used as part of a treatment programme for some common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Exercise is a very individual thing, it’s important to enjoy the exercise or it is unlikely you will continue it. If you are not currently exercising, then try a variety of things to see what you might enjoy. The recommended is 30 mins for at least 5 days a week. More information on the topic can be found on the Mind website.

In conclusion, mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing cannot be separated. Our bodies are extremely complex, but all the systems of our bodies interact with each other. Taking a holistic approach to managing our mental health is key. Although any treatment plan which will differ from person to person, depending on the condition, improving diet, ensuring good quality restorative sleep and increasing exercise can all have a major impact.

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