Seija Grant, MEd CP, RP
I regularly see clients who are struggling with day to day functioning because of their mental health, and are feeling emotionally overwhelmed. This happens to all of us at some point, and it often feels like making positive change can be impossible. I would like to remind you about the importance of ‘getting back to the basics’ as this can have a significant impact on your well-being and health. We frequently (as a society and as individuals) take these things for granted.
Breathing can improve mental health. Okay, obviously we need to breath to survive so this seems a little too simple. However, what I am talking about is the mental health benefits of DEEP breathing. Intentional deep breathing is a learned skill, thus not something that we do without trying to. Taking controlled, deep, full, belly breaths can trigger our body’s natural ‘relaxation response’, which can have the effect of relaxing both the body and the mind.
Lack of water, aka dehydration, affects how we think and feel, and can actually worsen mental health concerns. Water intake can have significant impact on our attention, short-term memory, long-term memory recall, productivity, mood and energy. Experts recommend consuming 8-10 glasses of water every day for optimal functioning, and even more if you lead an active lifestyle. And, no--coffee does not count as water. Coffee dehydrates you and hydrates you in roughly equal amounts, thus not contributing to hydration (nice try though!).
Alright this is a loaded subject so I am going to stay pretty general. In terms of mental health, it is important to eat balanced nutritious foods. We require eating a variety of food to get all of the nutrients our bodies and minds need to thrive. In terms of what we should eat, research supports that we should be eating whole, unprocessed (from the land) food, which is important to develop your brain and avoid eating processed (manufactured), sugary and fried foods. It’s not only important WHAT you eat, but WHEN you eat. There is plenty of research to suggest that eating regularly (3 meals per day plus 1-2 snacks, OR 4-5 small meals per day) helps to keep your brain fueled and consistently performing and also helps to stabilize your mood. Paying attention to your ‘food needs’ helps you to connect your mind and body, because you are noticing signs of hunger, signs of fullness, or other cues that you may need fuel (low energy etc.) There is a new sub-genre of research linking food to mental health that has provided evidence to support that nutrition is just as important for mental health as it is for physical health. Also, another way that food can impact mental health is because eating can be a social activity, which helps us to increase connections and enhance relationships. There is an important connection from your gut to your brain and they both impact each other (think about when you are stressed and you feel it in your gut). Treat your gut well and it will have positive effects on your mental health. Also, be wary of consuming too much caffeine, as it can mimic anxiety symptoms, and also decrease our brains’ sensitivity to incoming messages.
And to round out the ‘basics’ here is an important one--SLEEP. Sleep is important for so many reasons. It can help us to consolidate memories, process events and information (which contributes to learning), it can heal muscles, stabilize moods, increase mental performance, and even strengthen immune systems. It is recommended by professionals in the field that adults require 7-8 hours per night on average of sleep. I really can’t say enough about the positive impact of getting the right amount of sleep. As a side note—there is such thing as TOO MUCH sleep, and it can actually feel very similar to not getting sufficient sleep. Ensuring we get a good quality and quantity of sleep is important and we can make changes in this area by improving sleep hygiene, by having a sleep assessment done, or attending a sleep clinic to monitor barriers to sleep. To start figuring out what is going on with your sleep, try using a sleep diary for a two-week period to monitor some of the factors affecting your rest.
Taking time to do deep breathing, drink a sufficient amount of water, eat well (eating nutritious food regularly), and get a healthy amount of sleep can have positive effects on your mental health such as:
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