Many people are looking for holistic solutions to improve their mental health, as the long-lasting pandemic situation has taken a toll on everyone – studies report an increase in psychological distress among the general population. Here in Canada, families with children under the age of 18 are suffering from deteriorating mental health, reported a recent British Medical Journal study. Let’s help Canadians find holistic approaches to help improve their mental health.
What’s the Fastest Way to Improve Mental Health?
One of the fastest ways to improve your mental health is to take a few slow, deep breaths. Symptoms of anxiety, from racing thoughts to an upset stomach, can dissipate by practicing deep breathing. The mind gets the chance to refresh itself, allowing you to have better awareness, slow your heart rate, and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Breath control can change your life, according to science. A good night’s sleep can improve your mental health, and may help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.
How to Improve Mental Health Holistically
- Deep breathing
- Make sleep a priority
- Smile at vegetables
- Focus on the good
- Raise your glass
3 Less Obvious Ways to Improve Mental Health
Beyond your breath and a good night’s sleep, your mental health can benefit from some less usually thought of holistic lifestyle practices. Here are 3 other healthy lifestyle habits, perhaps a few more surprising ways, to improve mental health.
1. Smile at Vegetables
In a study of more than 80,000 British participants noted a significant link between their happiness and vegetable consumption. Similar results were seen in a study in New Zealand, noting about 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day improved emotional well-being. Why do whole, plant-based foods promote positive mental health? There’s bidirectional communication between your brain and your gut, called the gut-brain-axis. Dysbiosis and inflammation in the gut are linked to many server mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression. As such, it may be helpful to nurture the gut microbiome – the consumption of processed foods is linked to an unhealthy microbiome.
2. Focus on the Good
What you give your attention to influences your emotional state, thanks to complex neuronal pathways connecting the prefrontal cortex and your limbic system (part of the brain responsible for the behaviour and emotional responses). Focusing on positive things has been found in a number of studies to impact mental health. Practicing gratitude works to improve happiness in studies of children all the way through to older adults. Say what you are grateful for at the dinner table, or when you wake in the morning. In a study, each evening people recorded 3 things that were good in their day – it improved self-reported happiness in a 6 month follow-up.
3. Raise Your Glass
Being dehydrated is linked with headaches, poor mood, and low energy. Recognizing that mental wellbeing can be linked to your hydration levels may help. Chronic dehydration is common in society. Insufficient hydration can also lead to more serious issues. Start each day with a glass of water – this can help you reverse the dehydration that has occurred while you were breathing and sweating through the night. Besides water, you may consider filling your cup with tea. Natural components in tea, such as caffeine, catechins (EGCG), and theanine, have positive effects on mood, promoting relaxation and calmness, according to scientific data from 21 green tea studies. Theanine is an amino acid in tea that has positive effects on relaxation and improves mood and sleep quality.
Last, but not least, you can improve your mental health by turning your mind towards others, according to researchers. By turning your mind outward towards the happiness of others is shown to improve happiness, health, and even lifespan.
Are you ready to help others by becoming a Registered Holistic Nutritionist? The Natural Nutrition Program is available in flexible learning formats, like Live Online, Self-Study Online, and In-Person Classroom/Hybrid. Find a branch and learn more today!
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Examining the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on family mental health in Canada: findings from a national cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 2021;11:e042871.
How breath-control can change your life: a systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Front Hum Neurosci 2018; 12: 353.
The association between mental health, chronic disease and sleep duration in Koreans: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health 2015; 15(1200).
Bifidobacteria and their role as members of the human gut microbiota. Front Microbiol 2016; 7 :925.
Combining lifestyle medicine and positive psychology to improve mental health and emotional well-being. Am J Lifestyle Med 2018 Sep-Oct; 12(5): 370-374.
Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Feb;64(2):115-23.
Green tea effects on cognition, mood and human brain function: a systematic review. Phytomedicine 2017 Oct 15; 34:26-37.
Altruism, happiness, and health: it’s good to be good. Int J Behav Med. 2005; 12(2):66-77.
Contributed by Allison Tannis
Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.