MOST TIMES WHEN we hear conversations about Mental Health, it is usually in relation to the identification of mental illness, prevention and treatment. Notably so, while a lot is stressed about mental illness, it is often misunderstood that the absence of a mental disorder is a direct indication of mental wellness. The truth is mental health is looked at on a spectrum that goes from being Mentally healthy–making adjustments to accommodate life’s experiences— Being Neurotic–to having psychosis on the extreme end.
How do we maintain our mental health?
According to the Mental Health Foundation UK, “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable mental health problems, although good mental health is likely to help protect against development of many such problems. Good mental health is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil a number of key functions and activities, including:
n The ability to learn
n The ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions
n The ability to form and maintain good relationships with others
n The ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty.
There are a number of things we can practice regularly to maintain our mental health. Here are a few for your consideration:
1. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is really important for our physical and mental health. Sleep helps to regulate the chemicals in our brain that transmit information. These chemicals are important in managing our moods and emotions. If we don’t get enough sleep, we can become at risk for developing depression and anxiety. I can’t stress it enough. Take the time to rest your brain; reboot and reset.
2. Eat well
This does not mean just eating regularly and eating anything we feel like, but rather it is important that we try to eat a balanced diet. If you find you’re a particularly stressed or anxious person, you should try limiting or cutting out caffeine as this can make you feel jittery and anxious. Remember that eating well isn’t just important for our bodies, but it’s also important for our minds. According to the American Dietetic Association, “people tend to either eat too much or too little when depressed or under stress. Eat too much and you find yourself dealing with sluggishness and weight gain. Eat too little and the resulting exhaustion makes this a hard habit to break. In either case, poor diet during periods of stress and depression only makes matters worse.”
To boost your mental health, focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon.
Dark green leafy vegetables in particular are brain protective. Nuts, seeds and legumes, such as beans and lentils, are also excellent brain foods.
3. Avoid alcohol, smoking and drugs
Drinking and smoking can negatively impact your mental health once abused. Drinking alcohol can also prove to be counterproductive in alleviating mental and emotional challenges.
When an individual has had a few drinks they can feel more depressed and anxious when the intoxication has worn off, and it can be harder to concentrate. Excessive drinking for prolonged periods can leave you with a thiamine deficiency. Thiamine is important for our brain function and a deficiency can lead to severe memory problems, motor (co-ordination) problems, and mental confusion and eye problems. If you smoke, between cigarettes your body and brain goes into withdrawal which makes you irritable and anxious.
More severe effects of drugs include paranoia and delusions. Additionally, there is some research that suggests drug use is related to developing mental disorders like schizophrenia.
4. Get plenty of sunlight
Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a really important vitamin for our bodies and our brains. It helps our brains to release chemicals which improve our mood, like endorphins and serotonin. Make use of the beautiful sun in the Caribbean and try to go out in the sun as often as you can, but also take the necessary precautions to safeguard your skin and eyes safe from UV rays. Ideally 30 minutes to two hours a day of sunlight is good. In places that experience winter, some people become depressed because they aren’t getting enough sunlight – this is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
In those places it is not unusual for some people to use a special light-therapy lamp to alleviate the symptoms.
We’ll have more on Good Mental Health in next Tuesday’s edition.