The final post in this series is all about the environmental impacts on your mental health, looking at food, drink and exercise and whether certain additions to your diet and lifestyle can improve your mental health for the better.
It can be hard what to believe when it comes to what foods we should incorporate more of in our diet and there’s always a latest fad/tread that people are talking about. I recently heard that pistachios could help you sleep at night and then there’s whole green juice bandwagon that’s now turned into celery juice, also what about chocolate being good for your mental health? Then there’s activities like mediation and yoga. Do they really help with your mental health or is it that our lives are so busy that when we finally get a chance to do nothing, we get this sense of relief?
Celery Juice – this seems to an on-trend thing at the moment, and while there is some research that suggests that due to the phytochemicals in celery it can help reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation and fight against oxidative stress. Studies are still being done into whether there are any major health benefits in celery juice especially compared to other juices. While it’s probably not going to directly impact your mental health if it helps you get more veggies into your diet then there’s no harm in drinking just don’t expect any miracle cures to happen because of drinking it.
Walnuts – these small nuts look like a brain and maybe that is just a coincidence, but they do help with brain health though not specifically mental health. They are loaded with antioxidants and omega 3s and while they don’t directly impact your mental health short term they do help with cognitive function and decreasing the risk of dementia (along with dementia related depression and anxiety). While they won’t help you immediately, the long term the benefits of enjoying this nut are worth it.
Pistachios – who would’ve thought that a one ounce (28 grams) serving of these nuts could contain 6mg of melatonin the hormone that helps your body to relax. When your mental health is bad you often don’t sleep which can further impact your mental health, so if you’re struggling to sleep it may be worth enjoying a serving of these nuts. However more research needs to be done whether the body absorbs melatonin from food differently compared to supplements (which were mentioned in this article). These nuts may not directly impact your mental health however they may help with some anxiety side effects.
Cashews – there’s more than meets the eye with these nuts they are enriched tryptophan, magnesium, vitamin B6 and other vitamins that specifically help reduce anxiety and depression. Tryptophan is essential for the absorption of Serotonin (the hormone that stabilises the mood) it can also positively impact social behaviour. Magnesium is vital for boosting our mood and improving our nervous system which could help in alleviating some anxiety and depression symptoms, it also helps stabilises our blood sugar. Vitamin B6 aids in the uptake of serotonin and helps with relaxation and improving overall brain health. While cashews aren’t a substitution for anti-anxiety medications or anti-depressants, they can help with boosting our mental health in general.
Chocolate – often when we’re going through a tough period we reach for chocolate, and this may have benefits on our mood and mental health. Chocolate, specifically dark chocolate has been proven to lower the risks of depressive symptoms. This is because chocolate contains the following: Flavanols (brain protecting nutrients that improve mood and cognition), caffeine and theobromine (these deliver rapid effects on energy and cognition), N-acylethanolamines (this is a fatty acid that has euphoric effects and has shown promise in treating bacterial, fungal, and viral infections) and Phenylethylamine (which increases the release of dopamine) all which can have positive impacts on your brain and mental health. You don’t need much chocolate only 1 or 2 ounces (30-60 grams) and to see any major effects it ideally needs to be dark chocolate (70% solids or more) but enjoyed regularly it can help.
Meditation – to put it simply mediation is the act of sitting down, emptying your mind, and focusing on your breathing. Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained and return to that when negative feelings and emotions intrude. The aim of meditation isn’t to push those feelings away or block out those negative thoughts but noticing them and accepting and understanding that you don’t need to act on them. It has been proven to help reduce moderate anxiety and depression with many studies citing that it is beneficial if done regularly for an extended period of time. It can also help with lowering blood pressure, helping with pain along with improving sleep all these things can have an impact on your mental health. Meditation is something that can be done anywhere and there are many apps and programs out there that can help.
Yoga – all exercise is good for your mental health, but yoga has the added benefits of meditation and deep breathing, plus it’s low impact and can be adapted for varying skill levels. It can help lower anxiety and depression while also strengthening the brain improving cognitive skills. While it’s not a complete treatment in itself it’s been proven to be a good compliment to other mental health treatments (such as medication and talking therapy) as it helps increase feelings of relaxation, improve self-confidence and body image and create a better sense of wellbeing. It also has the added benefit to increasing your fitness which helps boost the serotonin levels. To get the most out of yoga it’s recommended that you do it at least a couple of times a week on a regular basis.
Sitting out in the sun – while we’re all aware of the risks of sitting out in the sun for too long, making sure we enjoy the sun’s rays is essential to our mental health. This is because we need sunlight to help with our serotonin levels, sunlight cues special areas in the retina which triggers the release of serotonin in our brain. Without enough sunlight we can get depressed, this is where the diagnosis of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) comes from in which people suffer with depression due to the change in seasons (this is especially prevalent in places which don’t much sunlight in Winter). We also need vitamin D which we can get from the sun and helps reduce the risks of some cancers, increase bone strength and helping the skin heal from certain conditions (including eczema and acne). You don’t to spend a lot of time out in the sun only around 5-15 minutes 3 days a week is plenty to see the benefits of vitamin D and help with your mental health.
As with all the above while they can help with your mental health, they won’t replace therapy or medication when your mental health is struggling. Don’t decide you should do meditation followed by yoga in the sun and eating a snack mix of nuts and dark chocolate and expect your mental health to be amazing. However, they may be able to improve your day-to-day life and help keep you mentally healthy and balanced especially during tough times.
Looking back at this series there are many things we can take away; the big thing is that there are layers to keeping mentally healthy. While there are supplements, products and lifestyle changes that can help with your mental health especially if it’s environmental, if you’re really struggling, they won’t make an impact unless you address the underlying problem and seek professional help. However, they can all be complimentary to professional help and help make your mental health easier.
Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Erin’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.
People who eat dark chocolate less likely to be depressed, Dark Chocolate for Depression, Depression and Dark Chocolate, Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross-sectional survey of 13,626 US adults
7 Benefits of Meditation, and How It Can Affect Your Brain, How Meditation Can Improve Your Mental Health, Benefits of Meditation: 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation, How meditation helps with depression