Celebrating Mental Health Week
Updated: May 26
It's Mental Health Week and I am so glad that there is a great community out there who strives to break the stigma around mental health conditions these days.
When I was diagnosed with severe anxiety, which came out of the blue, I did not know much about it. I knew it did not happen because I was weak, actually, the opposite was true. I had been too strong and stuck in situations I did not like for a very long time. A mental health condition such as anxiety or depression very often is a signal that our body sends out to tell we need to stop and look into things in life that do not work or serve us any longer.
What I have learnt along the way is that we are all unique and no size fits all. We can experience different conditions and levels of mental unwellness, and what worked for me might not work for you. However, there is a big truth, and the truth is that it can be treated and we can certainly get much better or completely recover from it, as in my case. Even though your worrying thoughts are constantly telling you the opposite. Unfortunately, that’s the ugly vicious cycle of anxiety.
Regarding my anxiety, it took a good year to recover and re-invent myself and I have to say that mental health is something that I am constantly taking care of and that’s ok. The key steps that have worked for me and the ones I highly recommend are:
1 - Eat a balanced diet
Eating a balanced diet rich in green leafy vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats such as omegas-3, and complex carbohydrates (such as sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, pasta and cereals, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds) is key to good health together with exercising and sleep. In other words, foods as close to their natural state, or as nature intended them to be eaten. Also, include foods that support your gut such as fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and fibre which you can get from the foods mentioned above. Scientists estimate 90% of serotonin (the so-called happy hormone) is produced in our gut, so take good care of it. For more information on the link between food and mental health I highly recommend the book Nutrition for the Mind by Patrick Holford. Such an eye-opening read!
2 - Intentional movement (exercising)
Find something you love and stick to it. There are huge scientifically proven benefits of exercise, not only for our body but for our mind too.
3 - Sleep
Sleep is vital and is key to maintain good mental as well as physical health. Body and mind recover whilst we sleep. Research shows that getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night on a regular basis is beneficial for adults. I always aim to get 8 hours of sleep but to feel at my best the magic lies between 8.5 and 9 hours.
4 - Find your passion, the liquid gold for the brain
It does not have to be big, it could be as simple as cooking, gardening, knitting, volunteering or blogging. Start something challenging you like. You want to keep your brain focussed on something creative, happy, and motivating. Simple activities such as the ones mentioned above give you an instant sense of achievement. When my anxiety kicks in on and off, usually in the evening as I look back at how the day went in terms of accomplishments, I start baking or cooking something new. This allows me to focus on the moment and at the end of the process I get a nice sense of achievement which lowers my anxiety level and makes me satisfy. So, go get involved with a hobby or two.
5 - Nutraceuticals (supplementation)
Nutraceuticals can be defined as foods or food components with functional capacity to prevent or treat disorders. In recent years, research has shown the potential benefit of nutraceuticals and dietary supplements for mental and brain health.
B group vitamins are essential for brain function, mental sharpness and good mood, for example. I always take a good supplement despite I eat a very healthy diet as B vitamins are water-soluble (as well as vitamin C which reduces tiredness) which means they can be lost in water used for cooking, destroyed by heat or by being exposed to the air. These supplements, along with magnesium, for instance, help to nourish the nervous system and reduce anxiety, panic attacks, and restlessness or irritability. Another great one is 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) which is an amino acid that your body naturally produces. Your body uses it to produce serotonin, a chemical messenger that sends signals between your nerve cells. It is suggested to take it one hour before going to bed with a carbohydrate snack as tryptophan need carbs to be transported across the blood brain barrier. The same is true when you eat a tryptophan rich food together with some complex carbs you increase serotonin production. It will help to have a deep sleep too. Look into it and ask a supplement advisor or registered nutritionist for further recommendation.
6 - Eliminate
All those things in your life that do not make you feel good. Yes, people included (sorry)! Instead, surround yourself by positive people who genuinely like your company, have things in common and support you.
Ultimately, I would advise speaking to your doctor so you can be directed to someone who is qualified and ready to help you. There is a lot of support out there, from CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), medications (which get better and better to tackle mental health conditions in a short time), to charities and associations that can really assist you.
Remember, recognise the fact that we need help is the first step to recovery.
There is a lot much to say about mental health but for now, I will leave you with an inspiring quote I read somewhere that summarises perfectly the reason why you can make it.
The light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion. The tunnel is!