According to Mental Health America almost 20% of adults, roughly 50 million people, in the US are experiencing a mental illness right now and roughly one-third of us can expect to experience anxiety, one of the most common mental illnesses, sometime within our lifetime. As we talk more openly in society about mental health issues, we are realizing how prevalent mental health issues are across all age groups.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share several diet and lifestyle habits you can practice to help support your mental health. Most importantly, if you need help, seek it, don’t wait. You can call a free and confidential warmline to find help if you are not sure where to turn.
If you have been following my newsletter or are a client, you know that I believe that no one diet fits everyone, but here are a few key diet-related concepts that support our overall mental health.
- Focus on a whole foods diet with lots of colorful plant foods and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids including wild-caught cold-water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines), chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts.
- Reduce processed foods and artificial sweeteners.
- Keep your blood sugar stable with a diet that includes meals that contain protein, fat, and fiber.
- Experiment with a gluten-free diet and or an anti-inflammatory diet for a few weeks and see if that helps reduce your symptoms and improve your mood.
We used to think that the gut and brain were separate organs that operated in their own silos. Now we know that they are connected through the vagus nerve and send information back and forth. A healthy gut microbiome plays a key role in supporting brain function and mental health.
Stomach or digestive issues can be the cause of or the product of anxiety or depression. Digestive issues are not normal. If you are experiencing bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or other digestive issues, something is out of balance and it could be affecting your mood.
For a healthy gut eat a diet rich in
- fermented foods (sauerkraut, dill pickles, kimchi, kefir, miso, yogurt …)
- foods rich in fiber, especially prebiotic fiber (chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, leeks, green bananas, apples, oats, cooked and cooled rice and potatoes …)
- eat slowly in a relaxed environment
- chew your food well to support digestion
- consider stool testing if you are not improving
Spending time in nature has been shown to lower stress, improve mood, and reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders. One study showed that people who spent at least two hours a week in nature doing some sort of recreation reported significantly greater health and well-being. If you can’t get outside, even looking out a window and seeing nature can be helpful.
Last week I read a small study that showed that people who gave up social media for one week noticed an improved sense of well-being and a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety. I decided to give the experiment a try last week and completely stay off social media for the week.
The first few days were hard. I had FOMO (fear of missing out), but I noticed that I got more done during the day, and in those moments when an internal sense of stickiness — those times when I usually would reach for my phone and get a little social media dopamine (feel good) hit, I found other more supportive ways to relieve my stress and anxiety, like getting up and moving around, going outside for a minute, and saying hello and connecting with others (both human and feline).
I did feel better and the experiment has made me rethink my social media use. Instead of automatically turning to mindless scrolling, I am trying to be more deliberate in my social media participation. Here is a link to a summary of the study.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation practices are simple, but they are not always easy especially when we are feeling anxious or depressed. That said, the evidence shows that those who practice mindfulness and meditation regularly show a significant decrease in anxiety and depression.
If you don’t already have a meditation or mindfulness practice or you need some inspiration start by practicing breathing, taking a yoga class, playing an instrument, connecting with a meditation app, going for a mindful walk, or practicing everyday activities, like eating, cooking, and showering, with the intention and attention.
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues, consider the role that diet and lifestyle may be playing. Please reach out, and let’s talk.
Making changes in diet and lifestyle can be both challenging and empowering. My goal is to support my clients while they make changes in a doable, long-term way. Book an exploratory call (for new clients) or a follow-up visit (for existing clients) at book an appointment so we can dive deeper together.