Although 1 in 4 of us will be affected by a mental disorder at some point in our lives, 4 in 4 of us have mental health—which means that none of us should consider ourselves exempt from mental health maintenance. Since it’s estimated that there are 450 million people worldwide living with mental disorders and that someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds, we need to continue to shatter the stigma around mental health by sharing our experiences and nurturing a healthy mind.
From nourishing our gut to moving mindfully, there are everyday steps we can take to improve our mental health. We’ve put together a round-up of ways to help you destress, manage anxiety and sleep better for the World Federation for Mental Health’s World Mental Health Day.
Look after your gut
Our gut is often referred to as our second brain, impacting everything from skin and energy, to weight, immunity, sexual function and mood. Since up to 95% of our serotonin (the hormone that contributes towards feelings of wellbeing and happiness) is produced there, it makes sense that a healthy gut equals a healthy mind.
The gut-brain axis has been acknowledged by Ayurveda and Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but Western medicine has only recently gained a better understanding of this connection and our gut microbiota. These developments offer insight for radical new treatments for mental health issues including anxiety and depression.
As reiterated by Mental Health America, taking care of your gut and subsequently your gut-brain axis starts with a balanced and nutritious diet: prebiotic food (that feeds your gut bacteria) such as asparagus, bananas, berries and mangos, and probiotic food (that contains live bacteria) like apple cider vinegar, yoghurt, kimchi and kombucha.
Exercise’s benefits on both body and mind have been well documented, so finding a type you enjoy rather than dread is essential in ensuring you maintain it. Exercise doesn’t just have to mean pounding the treadmill at the gym; you could take a circus lesson to learn your way around aerial silks, take up a dance class or enrol in a programme that doesn’t even require you to leave the house like P.volve, which has specific mindfulness benefits by focusing on using the mind to control which muscle you’re using. “By focusing and engaging your mind heavily in your workout, you’re providing it with some freedom of some of the stress or anxiety you may be experiencing,” says co-founder and CEO Rachel Katzman.
Read: Yoga is for… anxiety
Read: Yoga is for… sleep
Give yourself time to feel good
Whatever self-care means to you, whether it’s lighting your favorite candle in the evening or cooking yourself a nourishing meal, dedicating time to do the things that make you feel good is important.
“The best things in life are free, but they’re often the hardest to achieve: a good night's sleep, time for yourself, exercise and a healthy diet,” says Frederika van Hagen, founder of Saintly Skin. When it comes to looking after our skin, she says “I think we are conditioned to believe that there is a magic cream out there that will answer all of our problems but this is just not the case. Yes, a good tailored skincare routine is going to help your skin function optimally but if you don’t look at the body as a whole then you won’t be able to gain the results you are looking for. Dehydration, lack of sleep, high levels of stress, vitamin deficiencies and environmental factors are all going to contribute. Our emotional and energetic state shows on our skin so first and foremost this is what we must all take care of.”
When technology fails us, quite often the solution is to simply turn the device off and on again, and everything suddenly works as normal. Our brains work in a similar way with sleep; when we “shut off”, vital processes occur in the body like muscle repair, memory consolidation and the release of hormones which regulate growth and appetite, meaning we can function well the next day. Sleep deprivation not only puts our mental health at risk, but it can impair our immune system and memory, and put us at greater risk of heart disease and cancer.
Mental Health America also recommends sleep in aiding resilience: “Get rest when you can. It not only helps us build a more resilient immune system, it also builds up emotional and mental health immunity.”