5 Easy Ways to Make Your Mental Health a Priority

5 Easy Ways to Make Your Mental Health a Priority

May is National Mental Health Awareness month.

We all know the importance of healthy eating and exercise for a healthy body. Recently, some high-profile people have spoken out about their struggles with mental health issues. Carson Daly (anxiety disorder), Ariana Grande (depression and PTSD), Demi Lovato (bipolar disorder), Leonardo DiCaprio (OCD), and Michael Phelps (ADHD) just to name a few have spoken frankly about their conditions. Their willingness to speak openly about mental health builds awareness and brings us that much closer to ending the stigma.

It’s important to normalize these discussions. It’s just as important to make your own mental health a priority. How do you do that? Here are five easy ways, starting today, that you can do to put your mental health front and center.

You are what you eat

Eating well is one of the best things you can do for your body and overall health, but did you know a healthy diet can do wonders for your mental health? Eating brain-boosting foods such as blueberries, nuts, and fatty fish, can protect your brain. More than a dozen studies have shown the omega-3 fatty acids in some fish have been associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. There’s good news for coffee lovers, too. The caffeine in coffee has a number of positive effects on the brain including a decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.

On the other hand, there are foods that can take a toll on our brains, especially your gray matter. Foods to avoid for the sake of your mental health are sugary drinks, prepackaged meals, and refined carbohydrates like highly processed grains. Studies have shown that when people eat foods high in saturated and trans fats (red meat, full-fat dairy, butter, and coconut oil), they tend to have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, cognitive decline, and brain shrinkage. You can increase your energy, and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression and boost your mental health by eating a healthy diet.

Your mother was right. Go outside and play

Experts agree that being outdoors is good for you. It can improve your mood, boost your immune system, and lower your blood pressure all while getting a dose of Vitamin D. Spending time outdoors is great also for your mental health. Ecotherapy, also known as green therapy or nature therapy, draws on the idea that people have a deep connection to nature. Spending time outdoors has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety, and stress. Stress prompts your immune system to release chemicals that increase inflammation. That’s good if your body is fighting off an infection, but chronic inflammation has been shown to increase cognitive decline. For years, psychiatrists have recommended that their patients suffering from depression spend time outdoors. The benefits can be felt in as little as 30 minutes a day. And, it’s free!

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

It’s a fact—you need your friends

Close friendships are good for your mental health. They give you a sense of belonging and purpose, increase your happiness, decrease stress, and improve your confidence and self-worth. According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia (UV), teenagers who had close friendships tended to have lower social anxiety and rates of depression and higher self-worth. Their research found that those with high-quality friendships during their teen years may have a direct impact on long-term mental and emotional health.

Interestingly, they compared teens who had higher-quality best friend relationships to those teens who were popular among their peers during high school. They found that teens considered highly popular during their teen years reported greater rates of depression and anxiety later in life.

Find your purpose

After surviving their teens and making it through the turbulent years of middle age, many adults ask themselves, “What gives my life meaning now that the kids have grown and left the nest, and I’m staring at retirement?”

How one answers that question will have a significant impact on their mental health. A senior that has a purpose—something to live for—is not only healthier in mind and body, but mentally healthier. And bonus, they tend to live longer.

In addition, people who have a sense of purpose in their lives tend to handle stress better. Dozens of studies have shown that seniors with a sense of purpose are less prone to develop Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive decline. Patricia Boyle, leading researcher and professor of behavioral sciences at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago states that “people can get a sense of purpose from very simple things: from taking care of a pet, working in the garden or being kind to a neighbor.” Finding your passion is a great way to boost your mental health.

Get a good night’s sleep

Shakespeare may not have known how close he was to the truth when he wrote that sleep was “nature’s soft nurse.” According to the CDC, insufficient sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand with poor sleep habits.

Not only is good quality sleep important for our body’s health, but it’s also vital for our mental health as well. Deep sleep flushes toxins from our brains. Studies have shown that people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease show a buildup of toxic proteins in the brain. The best way to flush the brain of these proteins is to get a good night’s sleep.

One important thing you can do starting tonight is to shut down your computer and put away your phone 30 minutes to an hour before bed. The blue light from your devices hinders the production of melatonin which is the hormone that controls your sleep patterns (circadian rhythm). You’ll find it hard to go to sleep and get up in the morning. Instead, put on comfortable PJs, settle into your bed and pick up a good book. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll fall asleep and how refreshed you’ll feel in the morning. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.

Living through this historical pandemic has allowed many of us to slow down, take stock, and make permanent changes that will positively affect the quality of our lives. This Mental Health Awareness month is the perfect time to create healthy habits that will allow you to easily make your mental health a priority.

If you are interested in learning more about therapy or would like to set up an appointment at Centered Therapy Chicago, call 773-569-1468 or email us at ctc@centeredtherapychicago.com