I read an opinion piece in the New York Times last week about how we currently treat depression. It left me frustrated. It offered two models of care. Therapy and medication and then went on to show how both can in some cases help and how other times neither is helpful. You can read the opinion here.
First and foremost I encourage people to get help when they need it, but what struck me as missing from this opinion piece and most conversations about mental health, especially around anxiety and depression is the role of diet and lifestyle. There is more and more research showing the important role of diet and lifestyle in the prevention and support of mental health issues. Today I wanted to share my top diet and lifestyle tips for supporting mental health.
Top Three Diet and Lifestyle Habits for Supporting Mental Health
- Eating food that nourishes the body and brain and helps to balance blood sugar. Focus on eating, whole real foods at regular intervals and building a colorful plate rich in plants, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, flax seeds, chia seeds …), adding in good sources of proteins, prebiotic and probiotic-rich food to support the gut, and limiting processed foods and foods high in sugar.
- Practicing exercise and daily movement. This can be anything from a run to gentle stretching, dancing, or anything in between. Walking or biking outside helps us spend time in nature (another great tool to support mood). Do it with a friend and it is even more supportive.
- Getting a good night’s sleep. For many of us, sleep can be challenging during the best of times. I have written a whole blog on sleep tips here.
While there are my top three tips, I can’t ignore some other key diet and lifestyle habits that are important for maintaining and supporting mental health. That list includes managing stress, connecting with self and others, spending time in nature, and supporting gut health.
It can be overwhelming to shop and prepare healthy meals, exercise, practice mindfulness, connect with others, and even get outside for a walk when we are feeling down. These practices may not provide the silver bullet, but setting a regular schedule and making these habits a priority can make a big difference in supporting mental health.
There are lots of reasons that we may be experiencing mental health challenges. Some are psychological and some are physiological. It is important to figure out what the underlying root causes are so that we can address them.
Losing a loved one, having a stressful job and other life stressors, going through menopause, having a thyroid disorder, living in a moldy building (that was my experience), poor gut health, and early forms of brain disease are just some of the things that can contribute to mental health issues. While the symptoms may be the same, the underlying causes are different and if we don’t address the underlying cause, it will be difficult to maintain sustained results.
Pick Your Team
You are the CEO of your body (and mind). You get to pick your support team. Your team can include all sorts of practitioners (therapists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, nutritionists, coaches, …) friends, and family. Cast your net as wide as you need. You may even find that you are building community and connections with yourself at the same time.
The Whole Person
All the parts of our bodies are connected. When I work with clients who have mental health challenges I want to make sure that we are addressing the whole person. While we may do some targeted supplements to support mood in the short-term (after making sure to check for any interactions with medication(s)) we will also look at diet and lifestyle, gut health, and many other factors that could be contributing to symptoms. Oftentimes there is more than one root cause. This work can take some time, but it is worth the effort. Here is a link to another blog I wrote about supporting mental health with diet and lifestyle.
It is time to create a new model supporting mental health, one that looks at the whole person, focuses on root causes, and includes a wide range of support from therapy and medication to diet and lifestyle. My goal is to support my clients while they make changes in a doable, long-term way. If you are interested in learning more 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.