Five simple ways to improve your wellbeing

While we often find ourselves focusing on working out and losing weight, little focus is placed on improving mental health. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO): ‘Mental health is an integral part to health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.’ But when was the last time you actually thought of improving your mental health? Mental health refers to the state of our cognitive and/or emotional wellbeing – it’s all about how you think, feel and behave. Mental health not only enables you to cope with the stresses of everyday life but it can also mean an absence of a psychological disorder.

Your mental health can affect your daily life, relationships and even your physical health. A study from 2012 published in the BMJ found that individuals with poor mental health are at increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Other research has recently linked mental illness to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Boost mood, build resilience, and strengthen your mental health by following these self-help steps, so you can be prepared to take on any challenges 2018 may throw at you.

1. Eat Healthy

A healthy, balanced diet is not only beneficial for physical health but it also has benefits for mental wellbeing. While it can stave off a range of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, a healthy diet assists in providing a range of nutrients for your brain to stay healthy and function well.

Following a Mediterranean-style diet, which incorporates high consumption of beans, nuts, cereals, seeds, plant-based foods and fruits have, in a 2012 study, been proven to be beneficial for mental wellbeing. The diet is also low in saturated fat and includes moderate consumption of fish, poultry and dairy and low consumption of meats and sugary foods. Furthermore, a 2013 study of almost 11,000 middle-aged women found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet not only lived longer than control participants, but they also exhibited better cognitive function and mental health.

In September 2014 a UK study was published in The BMJ Open suggesting that eating five portions of fruits and vegetables a day is good for mental wellbeing. The research found that out of 14,000 adults, 35.5 percent of participants who ate five or more portions of fruits and vegetables a day had good mental wellbeing, compared with 6.8 per cent of participants who ate less than one portion a day. The study was led by Dr Saverio Stranges of the University of Warwick Medical School, who said, ‘These novel findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake may play a potential role as a driver, not just of physical, but also of mental wellbeing in the general population.’ There are a number of foods and drinks that have been associated with poor mental health. The high intake of alcohol has been linked to anxiety and depression, with mental health experts recommending limiting alcohol intake.

2. Regular Exercise

Regular physical activity is an important key to help decrease depression and anxiety. The Australian Department of Health recommends 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate to intense physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1¼ to 2½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity each week (for adults 18-64 years). However, exercise doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the gym or engage in long sessions on the treadmill to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. Research has found that joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve your daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions such as depression.

3. Get More Sleep

A lack of sleep can affect metabolism, reducing the rate at which we burn kilojoules. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to increased rates of obesity and diabetes, according to research at the UK’s University of Warwick, which found that adults who get less than seven hours of sleep a night are twice as likely to become obese. A 2014 study by researchers from the George Institute on Global Health in Australia, found that people who have less than 5 hours sleep a night might be at higher risk of mental illness. According to a study at the University of Michigan in the US, depression rates are 40 times higher for patients with insomnia and an extra hour of sleep does more for our happiness than a pay rise.

There are lots of things you can do to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even at the weekends and during the holidays) as a routine can boost the body’s sleep-wake cycle, promoting a better night’s sleep. Television, computers, tablets and phones all stimulate your brain, making it hard to relax, so it’s recommended to switch them off in advance. It’s also suggested to limit the intake of alcohol, caffeine and sugary foods in the evening. A warm bath before bed or reading a book may help you fall into a bedtime ritual, which will tell the body that it’s time to wind down.

4. Manage Stress

Stress seems to be an inevitable part of adulthood that most of us will experience at some point in our lives. It’s been proven that whether it’s through work, relationships or money problems, stress can make the brain more susceptible to mental illness. However, there are ways in which we can reduce or manage stress to promote a sense of mindfulness and relaxation. Yoga and meditation are known to have many stress-reducing benefits and have been found to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression in expectant mothers. Above all, retaining a positive outlook during difficult times may also reduce stress. It could be as simple as smiling. The journal of Psychological Science published a study in 2012, which found that smiling during stressful periods could lower the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person is feeling happy or sad.

5. Find a Hobby

While employment may cause stress, unemployment is linked with poor physical and mental health. Being employed brings more than a way of earning a living; it provides a sense of identity and belonging, as well as offering structure to your life as you strive to meet goals. According to the Mental Health Foundation, finding a hobby or taking up voluntary work may promote good mental health. Building relationships and having interaction with other people is rewarding and can significantly improve mental wellbeing. Improving your mental health is a rewarding experience and should not limited to a New Year resolution – changes can be made at any time of the year. They help you handle life’s challenges and recover from setback, boosting your mood and building your resilience. It’s important to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not a weakness. Receiving appropriate care from a professional can help encourage us to do things we may not be able to do on our own.

The Stats Behind Mental Health

  • Each year around one in five Australians will experience
    a mental illness.
  • One in seven Australians will experience depression in their lifetime.
  • About 4 per cent of people will experience a major depressive episode in a 12-month period, with 5 per cent of women and 3 per cent of men affected.
  • Approximately 14 per cent of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder in any 12-month period.
  • Women are more likely than men to seek help for anxiety disorders (18 per cent compared with 11 per cent) and mood disorders (7.1 per cent compared with 5.3 per cent).

*Mindframe and Blackdog statistics