Maintaining mental health is just as important as maintaining physical health. Maintaining a healthy mind contributes to overall happiness and benefits the body in more ways than one. Confidence, happiness and positivity are all results of a healthy outlook on life.
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health is the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of an individual. It consists of our emotional responses such as happiness and sadness; psychological well-being like satisfaction in life and self-acceptance; and social well-being like having positive relationships and friendships.
Best Practices For Maintaining Mental Health
One way to maintain mental health is by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness of one's experiences, emotions, and surroundings. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can increase cognitive function and decrease stress levels. It has also been proven to reduce depression, anxiety, and pain. Practicing mindfulness means being able to see things for what they are without judgement or reaction.
According to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, “Research in mindfulness has identified a wide range of benefits in different areas of psychological health, such as helping to decrease anxiety, depression, rumination, and emotional reactivity. Research has also shown mindfulness helps to increase well-being, positive affect, and concentration.”
When people are not mindful, they tend to judge situations in one of two ways, that is, as either "good" or "bad." This type of black and white thinking can lead to negativity and stress because every situation is seen as an obstacle. Those who practice mindfulness stay in the present moment instead of focusing on the past or future, which enables them to see things for what they truly are. In fact, studies have revealed that thinking about the future is linked to anxiety and ruminating over the past to depression.
Different types of mindfulness include:
- Concentrative: focusing on one's breath, thoughts, or bodily sensations without regard to anything else
- Mindful Movement: awareness of one's body and movements
- Open Focus: awareness of how one thing is connected to another without focusing on any certain object
- Focused Yoga: awareness of the body during yoga
- Loving Kindness Meditation: wishing oneself and others well
When there is a nutrient deficiency or imbalance in the body, symptoms associated with mental illness and other diseases may arise. These symptoms often include fatigue, insomnia, irritability, depression, and anxiety.
The best way to prevent nutrient deficiencies is by eating a balanced diet that includes foods high in Omega 3s, B Vitamins, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Folate, and preferably one that is a whole food plant-based diet. The best way to treat nutrient deficiencies is by filling the diet with these types of food. Foods rich in these nutrients include salmon, halibut, sardines, spinach, bell peppers, dark chocolate, blueberries, almonds, and eggs.
According to research, a diet high in processed sugar is linked to depression and lack of motivation, while a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can help prevent a variety of diseases.
Furthermore, the benefits of proper nutrition include:
- Increased energy: eating healthy can give you more energy throughout the day so you don't feel sluggish
- Weight loss: eating "clean" will keep your body in shape and reduce the risk of obesity, which is linked to stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improved sleep quality: when you eat healthier, it's easier to fall asleep at night because your blood sugar is more even
- Healthier skin: research suggests that diets rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and fish can result in healthier skin
- Improved focus: eating healthy helps keep your mind in a better mindset so you can focus on different tasks
- Mental clarity: eating healthy allows your brain to process information and decisions more efficiently, so you can do what you need to do
Another way to maintain mental health is through supplementation. There are many supplements available today that help to balance mood and promote a healthy state of mind.
Different types of supplements include:
- Multivitamins: a multivitamin provides the body with much-needed vitamins that prevent deficiencies and promote mental health.
- Vitamins B12, B9, and B6: Vitamin B12 can help reduce stress levels by releasing serotonin in the brain. Vitamin B6 aids in the production of serotonin and dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of wellbeing. Folate supplementation can reduce feelings of depression because folate is necessary for the production of dopamine and serotonin.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D affects neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood. A deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of depression, stress, anxiety, and sleep problems.
- Zinc: Zinc deficiency affects the brain in multiple ways because it is needed for synaptic function and neurogenesis, which affects learning and memory. A zinc deficiency can result in increased anxiety.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega 3s are important because they prevent inflammation of the brain; inflammation can lead to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and schizophrenia.
Other supplements for mental health:
- Choline: Choline supports neurotransmitter function, which is necessary for mood balance and anxiety reduction.
- L-theanine: L-theanine supports the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, as well as promoting relaxation without drowsiness.
- Ginkgo biloba: Ginkgo Biloba may improve memory and cognitive function; it may also reduce anxiety, depression, and stress.
- Ginseng: Ginseng is an adaptogen that helps the body recover from physical, emotional, and environmental stressors. Some studies suggest it may be effective in treating Alzheimer's disease.
- Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha can reduce cortisol levels, which are responsible for stress. Ashwagandha also increases the production of serotonin and dopamine.
- Tyrosine: Tyrosine is an amino acid that stimulates the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters necessary for mood control.
- Tulsi: Tulsi is an adaptogen that reduces stress and anxiety, while also supporting the immune system.
- Chamomile: Chamomile promotes relaxation and has sedative effects that can help with sleep.
- Maitake Mushroom Extract: Maitake mushroom helps the body adapt to stress and recover from fatigue.
- Rhodiola Rosea Root Extract: Rhodiola reduces levels of cortisol, which causes stress. It also helps to relieve depression and anxiety.
Social connectedness is another way to maintain mental health. Being socially connected can reduce stress and the risk of depression, as well as improving quality of life and overall happiness. Social connectedness comes from having a strong support system and friendships. For example, Harvard University conducted a longitudinal study and discovered that the most significant influence on happiness was how connected people felt to others and their social networks. According to Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School who was involved in the study, "People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.”
Getting quality sleep is another way to maintain mental health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to fatigue and lack of focus, as well as increased risk of depression and weight gain. Additionally, research suggests that those who do not get adequate sleep often experience changes in the immune system as a result of increased levels of cortisol, which is released during times of stress.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable and you are able to relax once in bed.
- Avoid cell phones and other technology for at least one hour before going to sleep. The blue light from screens stimulates the brain, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible and at a comfortable temperature.
- Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Being consistent reinforces your body's natural circadian rhythm, which makes it easier to fall asleep quickly.
In addition to basic sleep hygiene, supplementation is another way to improve your sleep quality. The following supplements are often helpful in improving sleep quality:
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates mood and sleep. Supplementing with melatonin can help you fall asleep at night if supplementation becomes necessary.
- Magnesium bisglycinate: Helps relax the muscles and improve sleep quality by promoting deep, restful sleep.
- L-Glycine: L-glycine is an amino acid that improves sleep by balancing glutamate and GABA levels in the brain.
- Valerian Root Extract: Valerian root is a plant native to North America and Europe, among other regions. Valerian root can improve sleep quality by reducing anxiety and stress levels. In addition, valerian root also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
- Lemon Balm: Lemon balm is a plant with anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. In one study, patients diagnosed with anxiety showed significant improvement after supplementation with lemon balm.
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA): GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps control anxiety and stress levels. Low GABA levels have been linked to depression and other mental illnesses, as well as chronic pain.
- Venetron: Venetron is a compound that is commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other mood disorders.
Exercise benefits both the mind and body because it increases endorphins that contribute to improved mood, boosts serotonin levels to improve mental clarity, clears the mind for better thinking and problem solving, helps release stress and tension, improves sleep quality by reducing fatigue and insomnia, increases self-esteem by improving body image, increases energy levels that make it easier for individuals to engage in other activities,and reduces anxiety.
A study by Harvard University found that regular aerobic exercise may be just as effective for treating depression as antidepressants. In the study, it was reported that 30% of participants who exercised experienced relief from their symptoms.
The best type of exercise to improve mental health varies according to an individual's preferences and needs, but evidence suggests that any form of exercise is beneficial.
There are many ways to maintain mental health so it's important to find methods that work for you. Eating healthy, supplementing with vitamins/minerals, meditating daily, getting enough sleep every night, being social, and exercising are all effective ways to maintain mental health, and indeed are reinforcing, intertwined aspects of not just mental health but physical health too.
If you're struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other disorder that is making life difficult for you and those around you, consider seeking professional help. However, before beginning treatment it's important to take time to find the root of the problems you are experiencing.
Be sure to check out our guide on mental health resources to always keep your stay on your A-game!