Regularly getting a good night’s sleep, being physically active and eating a balanced diet are good ways to promote mental wellbeing. They’re not the only answer, but they’re a good place to start!
Rest, diet and exercise
A body that is tired, run down and lacking in vitamins and minerals is more at risk to both physical and mental illnesses, such as depression. If you aren’t getting the nutrition, rest or exercise you need, you may start to feel flat, lethargic and miserable.
When we sleep, our bodies rest, but our brains remain active – laying down memory, restoring daytime mental function and carrying out tasks that lead to physical growth.
Lack of quality sleep can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, tiredness and lethargy, morning headache, poor memory, anxiety and depression. People who regularly don't sleep well are also more likely to have accidents, abuse substances such as alcohol, and suffer greater illness and disease.
Our need for sleep changes as we age – take a look at how much sleep you need to keep on top of your game.
|Age||Hours of sleep needed each night|
Eat the right stuff
Your brain is just like any other organ in your body – it needs nourishing and keeping healthy to perform its myriad of tasks. The link between what we eat and how we feel has often been overlooked, but the more we learn about the effects of different foods, the more we can make choices to improve our quality of life.
There’s growing awareness that there is a link between learning, behaviour, mental health and nutrition; over eating, under eating or eating a lot of unhealthy food will impact on both your mental and physical health.
What is less well understood, however, is exactly which nutrients can reduce the symptoms of mental health disorders, and which may be protective and prevent disorders occurring in the first place. Even though there is a great deal made of possible associations in magazines and on the news, in reality the evidence associating mental health and nutrient intake is in its infancy.
A lot of tips on this matter are anecdotal, or only supported by small short studies that often throw up more questions than answers. It’s a difficult area of study, making it equally difficult to draw conclusions right now.
Food & mood
There are, however, reputable organisations that do list foods thought to be beneficial. The idea is that even if the evidence isn’t cast iron, there is little harm in eating well to try to prevent illness.
Foods that have a positive effect on mood
- Chicken – contains tryptophan, which is known to enhance mood. Vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid, zinc – good mood nutrients that turn tryptophan from meat, fish, beans and lentils to serotonin, which can be low in people experiencing depression.
- Chocolate – contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which can increase levels of feel good hormones (endorphins) and sex drive, and can act as a natural antidepressant. But beware, the regular consumption of the combination of chocolate, fat and sugar (which can also raise endorphin levels) can be hazardous to your weight! Small quantities of dark chocolate (which has less fat and sugar) are preferable.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – found in some fish and seafoods are thought to lift mood. But canned fish is not a good source of omega 3 as the canning process reduces its fat content.
- Carbohydrates – aid the absorption of tryptophan in to the brain. But the type of carbohydrate you eat is important. Low GI carbs, like wholegrain rye bread, oats and basmati rice, keep your blood sugar levels steady, preventing the highs and lows of mood associated with fluctuating levels.
(Source: Food and Mood Website in the UK)
What are endorphins?
Endorphins are the feel good chemicals, produced in your brain, that provide relief from stress and pain. Exercise stimulates the production and release of endorphins, making you feel better. However, the release varies from person to person; some people need more exercise than others to feel the effects. Other things like meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, breathing deeply and eating some foods (like chocolate), also produce endorphins.
Walk it off
When we feel down, we’re much more likely to want to curl up into a ball and tell the world to go away, than try to get some exercise. However, going for a walk, kicking a ball around etc, will help you to not only feel less tired, but also less miserable too.
There are links between physical activity and mental health benefits, including mood lifting, better brain functioning and improved self-esteem. Physical activity can help you respond better to psychological therapies, and they have a role in improving quality of life and symptom management. Sometimes it takes a real effort to get moving, but knowing that exercise helps your body release the ‘feel-good’ chemicals, or endorphins, that lift your mood, is often just enough to make you do it.
Lots of light to moderate bursts of activity can do the trick, and there are social benefits to physical activity too – if you join a club or team up with a walking buddy - that may have a role in keeping you happy.
Move & feel better
- Even 5 minutes of aerobic activity – like walking, swimming, yoga - can reduce anxiety.
- Anaerobic exercise - like weight lifting - and aerobic exercise can counteract the withdrawal, inactivity and feelings of hopelessness that people experience when they are feeling depressed.
- Activity can change or ease tension, fatigue and anger.
- Exercise can improve the way you see yourself, which lifts self-esteem.
- Joining a group or team can bring you into contact with like-minded people.
Food for the Brain Raising awareness of the importance of optimum nutrition in mental health
Happiness goes a long way to living an extra 14 years! NZ Herald, 2008
Online NZ support to strengthen wellbeing Ignite , NZ