The age-old saying ‘you are what you eat’ applies to every aspect of your well-being. According to Harvard Medical School, a healthy diet is as important to your mental health as it is your physical health. In fact, it has been found that there is a very distinct link between a poor diet and the prevalence of mental health concerns. Nutrient deficiencies can also exacerbate existing issues by negatively affecting essential hormone levels in the body. It is therefore of the utmost importance that nutrient-dense food and beverages are consumed as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Food Can Affect Your Mental Well-Being in Numerous Ways
Our brains rely on a large variety of nutrients to remain healthy and function at an optimal level. When our diets are not rich in essential nutrients, our mental well-being can be affected in numerous ways. Low blood sugar as a result of skipped meals can result in severe irritability and fatigue while eating an excess of sugary food can both decrease energy levels and result in pesky brain fog. If your diet is devoid of healthy proteins your body may not be able to produce enough of the essential neurotransmitters required to relay information between cells. This can, in turn, affect your dopamine and serotonin levels, leaving you feeling overly aggressive or increasingly depressed. If for some reason, your diet lacks vital nutrients despite your best efforts to eat healthily, it may be a good idea to invest in a quality nutritional supplement.
Don’t Underestimate the Value of Good Gut Health
The food you eat can also affect your mental health in a more indirect way – through the gut-brain connection. This connection can link mental health concerns such as anxiety and stress to gastrointestinal problems and vice versa. One way to ensure that your gut remains healthy is to adhere to strict food hygiene protocol. Avoid consuming any expired food products and steer clear of anything that has not been cooked properly, especially chicken and seafood. Also, stay away from any food that has been dropped on the floor as it may have been exposed to a range of nasty bacteria. While many of us have undoubtedly sworn by ‘The Five Second Rule‘ at some point in our lives, scientists have found that bacteria transfers occur regardless of how long the food is in contact with the floor.
Eat All the Colors of the Rainbow
A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins has been linked to improved mental well-being. Unfortunately, the CDC has found that only one in ten American adults consume sufficient amounts of fresh produce. In order to not only remain physically healthy but mentally fit as well, aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day in all colors of the rainbow. This will provide your body with not only complex carbs but a lot of vitamins and antioxidants as well that can help combat anxiety and depression. Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, and rye can boost serotonin production tremendously which can leave you feeling happier. Probiotic foods have also been found to be very beneficial to mental health according to a study published in Psychiatry Research. Next time you feel anxious consider indulging in probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi.
The food you consume on a daily basis can affect your mental health and overall well-being in numerous ways. While a healthy diet may not be enough to ward off mental health concerns completely, it can definitely go a long way in reducing your risk and decreasing the severity of pre-existing conditions.
After an initial career spent as a sexual health nurse, Issy turned to writing to make a living and now pens articles on topics relating to sexual health and the anxieties it can create. She believes strongly in talking therapies as a way to help overcome issues, after experiencing her own struggles with mental health. Issy now lives with her girlfriend and their pet dog Barney.
As 2019 quickly comes to an end and a new year (and a new decade!) begins, people are quickly scrambling to think of New Year’s Resolutions to set for themselves to start a “New Year, New Me”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines New Year’s Resolutions as “a promise you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year”. According to a quick Google search, the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions include:
Diet or eat healthier
Save more & spend less
Learn a new skills or hobby
Find another job
Drink less alcohol
Spend more time with family & friends
While people who set up resolutions (either like the ones above or any other goal they set for themselves),
it often sets them up to feel disappointed because if/when they don’t reach
their goal, they feel like they’ve failed.
I am not anti-New Year’s Resolutions, by the way, I think they’re a good
idea, in theory, but setting yourself up for failure, essentially, doesn’t seem
like a good way to start anything. So
rather than setting a New Year’s Resolution for yourself, I want to encourage
you to set a theme for the new year.
What is a New Year Theme?
The Oxford dictionary defines “theme” as:
The subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a
person’s thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic.
An idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art
Give a particular setting or ambience.
In simpler terms…a theme is the main idea or underlying
meaning; when setting a theme for yourself for the new year, you are ultimately
looking for the main idea (or ideas)
in your life. Life themes are generally
made up of keywords that represent your highest values; each value gives you a
starting point for defining the major themes of your life.
How to Identify Your Theme
There is not one right or wrong way to do this. To get an idea of where to start, though, you need to create a space where you can intentionally think about your values–what do you most value, seek out, and love to experience? Need some help? No worries! Below is a list of universal values (also–please feel free to add your own!) Take time to look over the list and find the words that resonate with you the most. One you pick (however many you choose), try to narrow it down to the top 3-5. Once you determine these 3-5 values, this will be the foundation for the theme you want to set for yourself. Your theme can be just the word or you can create a sentence with it.
Wisdom. (This is a perfectly good theme for the new year!)
I want to impart wisdom to people around me who are curious and would love to spend time with people who are wiser than me so I can learn from those I value and respect. (Again…perfectly good theme for the new year!)
I can’t say this enough…but there is no right/wrong way to
do this. This is totally for you.
Once you find the right words for your life theme, you will
start to see a connection between the way you look at and move through the
world. Use these connections to guide
you and the way you look at life, challenges, obstacles, and opportunities that
come your way.
Things to Keep in Mind
First and foremost, there isn’t one right way to do this. I know I’ve said that multiple times…but it’s because it’s ABSOLUTELY true. Keep that in mind while you keep these other pointers in mind:
We likely need several themes.
It is unlikely that you’ll have JUST one theme in
your life (although it’s totally okay if
Life themes do NOT happen overnight.
This process takes time!
It’s not something that you should rush or force. As life happenings occur, some stories in
your life end while others begin–momentum unfolds with each page in the story
of your life. So be patient and kind to
yourself as you are evaluating what makes most sense for you.
Understanding our theme keeps us engaged and intentionally
A theme in your life is not intended to live a certain life and
dictate what you can or cannot do.
Rather, it is intended to help you determine how to handle celebrations
& challenges and everything in between.
Above all, be true to you and set a theme (or themes) for your
life that will allow you to live your best, most authentic self. After all, that’s what the ultimate goal is…right?
List of Values:
Growth & Change
Order & Chaos
Need some extra guidance with setting your theme for the new year? Check out this blog by Katy Manganella on setting intentions for the new year. It’s a great place to start!
If you are reading this post, you can probably relate to the feeling of anxiety or know someone else who is currently facing excessive worry or unease. ANXIETY IS NORMAL! Literally every client that walks through my door is experiencing some degree of anxiety, and the reality is that we are biologically wired to have these emotions! In the olden days, humans were faced with many different challenges than we are today, and anxiety was a feeling that made us appropriately respond to these threats. Even though we are not likely to still face the threat of a lion attack, famine or plague as our early ancestors did, we do face a great deal of new threats (social media bullying, gun violence, climate change!) to which our biological response remains the same. As normal as it is to have these feelings, knowing what to do with them is a developed skill that most people have not yet mastered or even practiced for that matter.
Now that we’ve covered a little background on the origins of anxiety, let’s dive into how to these universal human feelings can be best addressed and managed.
My most favorite and personally effective tip is EXERCISE!
Moving your body can stimulate the metabolism of chemicals that are naturally produced by your brain in response to anxiety and also stimulate the production of endorphins, which increase one’s sense of well being. This does NOT by any means necessitate you hitting the gym every day at 5am. It simply means that you should take regular opportunities throughout your day to move about. Yes, regular and vigorous exercise has the biggest impact of reducing anxiety, but something is better than nothing; take a quick walk outside if you have a break from work or to start your day. Stretch when you get out of bed. Do a quick yoga or cardio video if you have 15 free minutes (try these quick workouts)!
Take note of how you felt before and after this movement. It is helpful to scale your feelings, with 0 being a state of super calm and 10 being anxiety through the roof! That way you have a concrete baseline from which to gauge. Find an exercise that works for you and gradually incorporate this into your daily routine. The more you do it, the more your body will crave it in the future.
This is another major player in the battle against anxiety. Insomnia is the most common condition that can intensify anxiety. There are books for days about this topic, and it can be very complex with many possible origins.
Just to keep it simple here, some of the most common culprits in sleeplessness are the following: not enough exercise, over stimulation in the evenings, irregular bedtimes or wake times, too much caffeine, excess stress, deficient sleep environment, and loud partners (or children!).
In order to set yourself up for the greatest chances of regular sleep, try and follow these general guidelines: exercise in the day, wind down in the last hour of your day (avoid too much screentime or mental activity); don’t eat a heavy meal at least two hours before bedtime, and develop a sleep ritual before bedtime (ex: a hot shower, listen to relaxing music).
Please be aware that exercise and good sleep are just a couple forms of SELF CARE – taking time and making time for other areas of self care such as nutrition, relaxation, mindfulness (see my colleague Katy’s blog here!), time with friends, etc. will also positively affect your quality of life and level of anxiety.
Next tip, pause to consider what can you CONTROL?
Sure, there are often many things about our families, jobs or life situations that we would ideally love to be a little different. But we have to realize that we can only exert total control over ourselves and worrying about other people or situations outside our circle of influence will only result in unneeded and unproductive worry. If you are able to let go of things you cannot control, you can decrease your level of anxiety considerably.
Try making a list of things, situations or people you try to control. Next to each item, note whether you have no, some or complete control over that item. Envision what it would be like to try letting go of the things over which you have no control.
If you feel very challenged by the idea of letting something go, imagine that you do and the worst case scenario plays out. In many cases, this would bring negative feelings such as disappointment, embarrassment or inadequacy but you may also realize that you are capable of handling this, and chances are, it’s actually very rare that the worst case scenario happens anyway.
Tip #3: Engage in more positive SELF-TALK
Have you experienced a breakup in a relationship and then blamed the whole downfall on yourself? Or bombed an interview and told yourself what a failure you are? People who feel higher levels of anxiety are more likely to engage in this negative self-talk. Self-talk is our subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) and internal dialogue that we quickly and instinctively think to ourselves. We often don’t notice it and we certainly don’t realize how much power it holds.
Picture yourself beginning a long roadtrip, with two whining children in the backseat and backed up traffic ahead. One version of yourself may be thinking, “This is horrible, I don’t know how I’m going to make it to the destination” or “Why did I agree to drive here for Thanksgiving?!” Imagine a different version of yourself saying, “I know we’ll get there eventually, why don’t I take some deep breaths and use this time to listen to a podcast or try that new album that was just released, or relive a favorite old memory”. Take a moment to think of a personal example of yourself in a similar situation and imagine how you would feel after the first round of statements versus the second. The power of perspective is real!
Try to take note of the self talk you engage in over the next several days and even jot it down if you get a moment. Were these positive or negative messages and how could you edit them to boost yourself up rather than cut yourself down? Remember that it will take practice to make these changes and that you must rehearse more positive statements to yourself consistently and repeatedly for them to sink in and make a difference.
Another one of my favorite tips to restrain anxiety is to SPEND TIME IN NATURE!
The idea of going outside to improve your mental outlook has been mentioned in several recent blog posts by my colleagues but it is so important in this discussion that its value cannot be overstated!! Please see my colleague Amber’s blog here.
Even better if you can combine the tips on exercise above with the suggestion of going outside for the ultimate release of negative energy. How about a jog on Lady Bird Lake trail or a lap swim at Deep Eddy anyone?!
Last but not least…Tip #5: NURTURE (or awaken!) your CREATIVE SELF.
The grind of everyday life has a way of sapping our creativity. Whether that is managing loads of homework or work projects into the wee hours of the evening or caregiving for others, the responsibilities of everyday life force us to give up what makes us feel good about ourselves sometimes.
When you are feeling super anxious, the path of least resistance can be to let go of things that seem unnecessary but it may be these same things that could most keep you sane if you let them. This tip relates to self care as discussed above but differentiates in the sense that stimulating a creative self can add personal meaning to your life and thereby protect against anxiety on another level.
Think about times before you were stressed or overwhelmed with anxiety. What things did you do to have fun? What activities made you feel most alive or grateful? Not everyone will consider themselves creative, but a spark of creativity hides in all of us. What can do you to bring it out?
Some examples may be to work in a garden, cook a new recipe, bring a sketchbook to a park, cultivate your spirituality or pick up a long lost instrument. Click here to inspire more fun ideas…
In the end, it doesn’t matter what you choose to do, but how you can cultivate your interests to add meaning to your life. For many people it can take an entire lifetime to feel fulfilled in your purpose; enjoying the journey is what is important and not how fast you get there. If you are feeling disconnected with your purpose, consider taking a personal values inventory online such as this one! https://www.lifevaluesinventory.org
I hope that reading this post generated some ideas about how you can take control of anxiety in your life. These tips just scratch the surface, as there are many different ways to cope with such a universal human emotion. The good news is, the power is within you! But as a reminder, here are the tips & tricks recapped: