Natural ways to manage mental health
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK and it’s so important that we continue to have these important conversations about mental health and wellbeing.
I know what it’s like to be depressed, anxious and have that feeling that you’re never going to get past it. I now know it’s possible to do this and I do a lot to manage my mental health and wellbeing. That means being vigilant about what I eat & drink, how I exercise, who I let into my life and having an active practice of self-care. I take things day by day.
I never used to talk about this side of me, thinking there was something shameful about my anxiety and depression, like I needed to hide it in order to present my best self to the world. Campaigns like this are important because it takes away the stigma and shows that talking about mental health matters.
What about you? Are you comfortable talking about your mental health?
The impact of food and alcohol on mental health
What we eat and what we drink (and what we don’t eat & drink) can have a huge effect on our moods and mental wellbeing.
Alcohol, for example, can affect our mental health simply because it depletes B vitamins and these are what we use to produce serotonin, our happy hormone. This is the ‘hangxiety’ that some of us experience after a few drinks.
Food can also help us manage our moods. Getting lots of veg, especially leafy greens and cruciferous veg helps feed the good bacteria in our gut and it’s this good bacteria that helps produce serotonin (that wonderful happy hormone!)
Yoga, yoga, yoga!
Okay, you might read this part of the post and think I’m a bit biased. Yes, it’s true that I love yoga (I do at least 30 minutes every day!) and I start my yoga teacher training in two weeks time. BUT it really is beneficial.
Research shows that yoga can help us better regulate our response to stressful situations and can decrease our heart rate, blood pressure and how quickly we breath in and out.
It’s true that yoga can never stop anxiety and depression. However, the research shows and what I know from my personal experience, is that it’s an incredible way to proactively manage mental health and manage symptoms when they crop up.
I’ve been leaning on my yoga pretty hard recently, in both the physical and breath practice, in order to help manage the anxiety that a pretty wild family situation has caused. The simple act of being in the flows of the different poses helps my brain shut off and adding in the breathing helps calm me down and bring some perspective. I take my breath work into the rest of my day and it helps a lot.
Have you seen the benefits of yoga on your mental health?
In the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to add in a few minutes of meditation after each yoga practice. I do shavasana and then I go into my meditation pose. On my Instagram Stories, I’ve been calling what I do #reallifemeditation because for me, there isn’t a perfect meditation scenario. It’s about trying to squeeze it in where I can, in my day to day life, and trying not to let my mind wander too much.
I got an amazing message from one of my nutrition colleagues, which put what I’m trying to do in perspective. She shared something her dad said to her about meditation: it’s not about having an absence of thought, but merely observing your thoughts and letting them be.
So when I meditated earlier this week and thought about whether Meghan Markle was doing okay, whether she does yoga with her mom, remembering to floss before I went to the dentist, these were all thoughts that I now just need to observe, rather than stressing out that I can’t empty my mind.
Studies show that mindful meditation that incorporates breath work helps reduce noradrenaline, one of our stress hormones. So whether you can meditate for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, it’s can become a wonderful part of your mental health toolbox to help manage anxiety and depression.
Would you try meditating?
Get into the sun
Do you ever feel a bit anxious or depressed and then suddenly feel your mood lift a bit once you head outside into the sun? Some of that could be vitamin D!
Vitamin D is an incredible hormone (no, it’s not actually a vitamin!) that helps improve mood, build strong bones and support our immune system. We have vitamin D receptors on many of the cells in our bodies and the easiest (and cheapest way!) to get it is from the sun! ☀
Research shows that vitamin D plays an important role in regulating mood and keeping depression at bay, which explains why many of us feel a little bit better when we’ve got a bit of sun.
During the winter, it’s important to get your levels tested at your GP or privately to know how much you need to supplement. During late spring and summer, get outside into the sun! Just 10 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) is all it takes to keep your vitamin D levels topped up!
Do you notice a difference in your mood when you’ve been in the sun?