Tips to improve your mental health

8 October 2020 FIAFitnation
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At FIAFitnation, we’re all about taking care of our fitness, health and nutrition in order to get the most out of every day. A big part of that is looking after our mental health and wellbeing.

What is mental health?

Beyond Blue defines mental health as a state of wellbeing where individuals can cope with the normal stresses of life and contribute to their community.

Each year, one in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental health illness. This can include anxiety, depression and substance use disorder. 1

Today, we look at simple tips that you can implement into your daily routine to help increase your overall wellbeing.

Exercise

Have you ever noticed after a jog or swim how invigorated you feel? There’s good reason for that. Exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. This is due to the increase in blood circulation to the brain from exercise which then influences the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, our central response to stress. 2

Above all else, daily exercise can provide us with a sense of achievement and increases our self-esteem. Have you heard of runner’s high? That’s referring to the chemicals released during exercise called endorphins. Endorphins serve the purpose of pain management by blocking our pain receptors. 3

Spending time in nature

A 2015 study revealed that when shown images of open green spaces compared to images of buildings, our brain reacts in a positive way leading to a stronger recovery4.

Have you ever noticed how your mood improves throughout spring and summer? It probably comes as no surprise that the sun makes us feel good. A 2010 study5 revealed that light therapy resulted in a reduction in depression. Vitamin D also led to a decrease in depression, so it’s no wonder why we feel happier when we’re outside in the sunshine (just remember to wear sun protection).

There is also evidence to suggest that Shinrin-yoku aka forest bathing (taking in the atmosphere of the forest) can relax one’s mind by reducing the salivary cortisol when compared to spending time in the city.6

It’s not necessary for you to go on a coastal hike or spend your spare time in a beautiful green forest, it could be as simple as weeding your garden. Gardening is believed to have positive effects on our mental wellbeing as it combines all of the above – exercising, being in nature and exposure to sunlight.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing can work both as a preventative tool and also as a coping method during stressful times. There are increased studies that prove that diaphragmatic breathing can help to lower cortisol levels and relax the body and mind. 7

While it seems simple, we understand that it’s something that can easily go astray from your busy daily routine. We recommend incorporating it with a daily routine such as before brushing your teeth before bed.

There are a number of different breathing techniques that can help reduce stress and improve your overall wellbeing including the 4-7-8 breathing technique and the box breathing technique.

Eating well

It may seem absurd that our gut health is connected to our brain which then affects our mental health — it’s known as the gut-brain axis. Inflammation of the gut has been linked to an increase in anxiety and depression. Good gut health on the other hand can help to restore our gut microbiota thus, helps to prevent anxiety and depression.8

Sophie Scott, FIAFitnation’s Head Nutrition Trainer recommends cutting back on processed and sugary foods and increasing your gut heath naturally by incorporating prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food for probiotics and are found in fibre-rich foods including legumes, fruit and vegetables. Fermented foods are also key to good gut health as they are rich in probiotics. These include kimchi, sauerkraut, yoghurt, and beverages including kombucha and kefir.

“Good gut health has been linked to improved immunity and a lower risk of obesity and depression. Add these mood boosting foods to your day: salmon, sardines, spinach, walnuts, olive oil, wholegrain crackers (I like Dr Karg’s). Research indicates that eating a diet closer to the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of developing depression”, says Sophie.

If you have a diagnosed gut condition, such as IBS or Ulcerative Colitis, a low FODMAPs diet might be most appropriate for you. Of course, always consult a health professional prior to making significant dietary changes.

Get your sleep

You’ve heard it before. Quality sleep is important for our cognitive and mental wellbeing. We recommend avoiding using technology one hour before sleep. The blue light emitted from our screens can shift our circadian rhythm and disrupt our sleep. 9 Try to avoid caffeine after lunch if this is a trigger for you.

We hope you take on some of (or all of) these simple tips to help look after your mental health.

It’s natural to feel low sometimes, however, if you feel like you need to talk to someone, there is help available – you are not alone.

Beyond  Blue – available via online chat, email or phone

Lifeline – available via online chat, text or phone

FIAFitnation students can also reach out to the SAP (Student Assistance Program) on 1800 336 207 (24/7), confidential counselling for study-related or personal problems hotline, free for a series of sessions.

References

  1. Facts & figures about mental health. Black Dog Institute [online], accessed 1 October 2020

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/1-facts_figures.pdf

  1. Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health.

Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry8(2), 106. [online], accessed 1 October 2020

https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a

  1. Chaudhry SR, Gossman W. Biochemistry, Endorphin. [Updated 2020 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. [online], accessed 1 October 2020 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470306/
  2. Penckofer, S., Kouba, J., Byrn, M., & Estwing Ferrans, C. (2010). Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?. Issues in mental health nursing31(6), 385–393. [online], accessed 1 October 2020

https://doi.org/10.3109/01612840903437657

  1. Rowe, K (2019). Ease occasional anxiety and improve your mood with vitamin D.  Brain MD [online], accessed 1 October 2020

https://brainmd.com/blog/ease-anxiety-with-vitamin-d/#:~:text=When%20it%20comes%20to%20mood,as%20compared%20to%20other%20options.

  1. Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Hirano, H., Kagawa, T., Sato, M., & Miyazaki, Y. (2007). Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest)–using salivary cortisol and cerebral activity as indicators. Journal of physiological anthropology26(2), 123–128. [online], accessed 1 October 2020

https://doi.org/10.2114/jpa2.26.123

  1. Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology8, 874. [online], accessed 1 October 2020
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
  2. Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and practice7(4), 987.[online] accessed 1 October 2020

https://doi.org/10.4081/cp.2017.987

  1. Author unknown (2012). Blue light has a dark side – Harvard health publishing [online], accessed 1 October 2020

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

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