The 8 Step Guide To Good Mental Health

These 8 lifestyle changes significantly reduce your chances of getting a mental illness, and have been found to improve overall mental health.  They are to be used in conjunction with any current medication or treatment being received. By following these 8 lifestyle tips everyday, you will ensure that your life is more attune and in balance with how we have genetically and biologically evolved to live.

1- Reduce and Manage Stress

A prolonged period of stress is the predominant cause of depression and anxiety. It releases a number of toxic chemicals and hormones into our bloodstreams, which can over prolonged periods of time cause neurological changes to the brain. Constantly be aware of your own stress levels, and if you find yourself feeling stressed for more than a couple of days, make some changes and do activities which you know from personal experience will reduce your stress levels. Some examples of stress reducing activities include, sport, playing music, going for a walk, talking to someone and reading. Everyone finds different activities stress relieving, so do whatever you know works for you. Gain some perspective and don’t stress about small issues or things outside of your control. For example, when you are flying in a plane, there is no point stressing and worrying the whole flight that the plane is going to crash, because it is outside of your control. Finally, don’t put yourself in an environment and around people that make you stressed. Stress is the killer.

2 - Aerobically Exercise For 15 Minutes Each Day

Aerobic exercise which elevates your heart rate has been found to have a greater anti depressive effect comparable to the most effective anti-depressant medication.  It releases a number of beneficial chemicals into the body, such as endorphins, which increases energy levels and improves your mood.  Ride your bike, run, walk with a friend, play basketball at a park, go for a swim, the options are endless.  Just make sure you get into a habit of exercising every day.  When you make exercise a habit, rather than a chore, you are more likely to continue doing it regularly.  To make exercise more enjoyable, join a team sport, or exercise with a friend.

3 - Sleep For A Minimum Of 8 Hours Each Night

Sleep not only lets the body recover, but more importantly the mind.  Sufficient sleep is critical to efficient brain functioning. A lack of sleep is a major cause of mental illness, in particular depression and anxiety. Avoid caffeine and electronics 30 minutes before bed, and get into a routine of going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day.

4 - Spend A Minimum Of 30 Minutes Outside In The Sunlight Each Day

Sunlight has the fastest known anti-depressive effect.  Within minutes of being in the sun a person’s mood and energy levels generally increases, due to the impact of vitamin D.  Being outside has also been found to reduce stress levels.  Try to spend time in the sun as often as possible.  Read a book in the sun, study in the sun, walk or ride to work, go to the beach or have a conversation outside.  Always be aware of the importance of sunlight and incorporate being outside into your daily routine.

5 - Interact With People As Often As Possible

Social isolation is one of the predominant causes of depression.  Human beings are a very social species and we have evolved to enjoy spending time with other people.  Talking with a friend or family member not only prevents rumination but also reduces stress levels.  Try and interact with people as often as possible.  When given a choice between choosing to do something alone or with people, pick people. Join a club, organise events with friends, do activities with family members, don’t be afraid to talk to strangers, chat with people in real life, rather than over text.  Above all, fight the urge to hideaway from the world and make human interaction a habit.

6 - When Having Negative Thoughts Do An Engaging Activity

Rumination is when a person thinks the same negative recurring thoughts over and over in their head.  For examples, I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself, I’m worthless, I’m worthless, I’m worthless etc… This is extremely bad for an individual’s mental health because it heightens the stress response and increases the number of toxic chemicals and hormones released into the bloodstream.  It is one of the main characteristics of depression and anxiety.  A simple 3 step anti rumination strategy can be used to combat these ruminative thoughts.  Step 1 involves recognising and noticing when you are ruminating.  If you have been thinking the same negative thought for 20 minutes or longer, then you are ruminating.   Step 2 involves doing an activity to stop the rumination.  It must be an activity, you can’t stop yourself from ruminating by simply telling your mind to stop, it doesn’t work like that.  Common activities which make it difficult to ruminate are, competitive sports, a conversation with a friend or loved one, playing an instrument, playing a board game, reading a book etc…. Doing an activity with another person has been proven to be the most effective way to stop rumination.  Step 3 involves continuing doing the activity until the rumination has stopped or is beginning to go away.  There is no point doing an activity for a couple of minutes, only to stop it, and then have the same negative thoughts come back straight away.

7 - Supplement Diet With Omega-3 Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids come from naturally occurring plants and animals that eat them.  These fatty acids have been shown to have antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties, and studies indicate that they help serotonin and dopamine circuits in our brains function more efficiently.  Our bodies cannot produce Omega-3 fatty acids, and our diets generally do not provide the optimal Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio necessary for an antidepressant effects.  Thus, we recommend that you supplement your diet with omega-3 fatty acids.

You can buy Omega-3 fatty acid supplements at a chemist or health food store.  We recommend brands that give you 1000 mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA per day (this amount has been shown to decrease depressive symptoms and improve mood).  This supplement can be taken by those on antidepressant medications, as there are no known interactions.

8 - Seek Help Early

If you’ve been feeling down, anxious or stressed for 2 weeks or longer, seek help immediately.  There are so many options available. Talk to a friend or family member about how you are feeling.  Call one of the many free helplines.  Book an appointment with a psychologist. Just like with any other illness, you would be stupid to wait before seeking help.  The longer you wait, the more damage is potentially being done to your brain, and the longer the recovery will take.  Having a mental illness is not a weakness at all.  It doesn’t mean that you are a weak or inferior person, just as getting cancer, does not mean you are a weak or inferior person. Mental illness is just like any other illness, and should therefore be treated the same. Don’t suffer in silence, reach out and seek help early.  For more information on where to go to seek help, click here.