Mental health is not a one-size fits all issue; it’s a multi-faceted part of our health that can be affected by many things. Our mental health also affects our physical health and vice versa, so it’s essential that we do things on a daily basis to take care of our physical bodies so that our minds have all the support they need. Many of us have been under more stress within the last several years than ever before. It’s challenged us to think about ways we can support our bodies and be more mindful of self-care. We’ve created some tips that can help you be more mindful of your mental health this month and care for your physical health at the same time.
1. Prioritize Your Nutrition Intake
What we put in our bodies daily is a huge part of our physical health and affects our mental health in ways many of us don’t realize. When we provide our bodies with proper nourishment, we think more clearly, have less anxiety, sleep better, and have more energy. Even though nutrition isn’t the entire part of the puzzle, it does play a huge part in our mental health and the way our brain functions daily. Neurotransmitters that we need to feel well, such as serotonin and dopamine, need to be in balance. These are our “feel good” neurotransmitters that are related to calm, happy, excited, etc. Certain foods have aspects that help act as precursors to our feel-good hormones. For example, complex carbohydrates help support the release of serotonin, as do protein-rich foods. Fruits and vegetables are also rich in polyphenols and important vitamins and minerals that create a balance and allow neurotransmitters to work more properly.
We also want to be mindful of the release of cortisol in our bodies. This is a stress hormone, and while a little can be okay, too much over a long period of time can be problematic. Foods that tend to trigger the release of cortisol are caffeine, sugar, and highly processed foods. Conversely, including probiotic foods in a healthy diet, such as Lifeway Kefir, may help decrease the release of cortisol and help us feel less stressed due to how they influence our microbiome. Kefir is also a source of complete protein, which helps ensure our bodies are getting essential amino acids that support the release of serotonin (a feel-good neurotransmitter related to feeling calm) in our bodies.
The probiotics from fermented foods help maintain a balance of good bacteria in our gut, including those that ferment fiber into SCFA (short-chain fatty acids), which may help support our central nervous system and brain health. Not only does this create a healthier mindset to reduce stress, but it can also help improve sleep.
It’s easy to make sure you get enough of these nutrients daily when you eat balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy, along with fermented foods. These foods have a packaged source of fiber, natural sugars, vitamins, minerals and probiotics that our bodies know how to use efficiently to support our mental health.
2. Make Sleep a Priority
It’s vital for our health that we have time to rest and recover at night. We need to do this daily, otherwise our bodies do not have what they need in order to feel well and be prepared for the next day. Our sleep even affects how we digest our food and regulates our hunger hormones. So if we are trying to support our physical health and nutrition, it’s important not to let sleep be a second thought. If you struggle to sleep, be sure you are doing all the “right” things that support good sleep health: not having caffeine to close to bed, not eating a huge meal before bed, doing something relaxing before bed, and turning off all your devices at least 30-45 minutes before you turn in. This all helps release the sleep hormone, melatonin, more adequately in our bodies and helps us wind down more easily.
It can also be helpful to have something with calcium, protein, and complex carbohydrates at night. For example, have a piece of whole grain toast or some granola with Lifeway kefir and berries. Or, a small bowl of whole-grain, lower sugar (or no-sugar-added) cereal with berries and kefir. This can help you feel sleepy, yet satisfy the craving to munch on something but not overdo it on sugar, fat, and salt before bedtime.
Having a cup of tea at night can also be helpful. Relaxing herbs such as chamomile, passionflower, valerian, lavender, and rose petal all help us feel calm and relaxed. Look for a “sleepytime” or “nighty night” tea that has these herbs listed on the back label. Try our Vanilla Lavender Smoothie as another option!
3. Journal or Seek Out Therapy
It can also be helpful to journal your feelings each day, what you want to accomplish, and what needs to change daily. Writing can do wonders for our health when it’s in an open, honest format that is only for us. It also creates a self-dialogue that allows us to think more clearly instead of feelings and thoughts just staying jumbled in our head, which tends to happen when we are stressed out.
You can, and should, also seek out therapy when necessary. It’s okay to talk to a professional about what you’re going through, whether good or bad. It may seem odd at first, but many people who go through therapy often say that is the best thing they ever did. All of us have ups and downs in life. Be mindful of your mental health so you can know when you should reach out. Look for someone in your area, or go to www.nami.org to find a professional near you.
4. Move Your Body
Moving our bodies daily is also important for our mental health. When we move and exercise (even if it’s just a yoga session), we are helping release feel-good neurotransmitters our bodies need to feel well. We can’t expect our minds to work properly if we live a sedentary lifestyle indoors all day. Try to get outside, get some natural sunlight, and move your body. You can also do at-home yoga sessions for free and find many videos online. It’s easier than ever, all you have to do is just start! Try our post-workout smoothie for a healthy treat that’s a delicious way to refuel afterward!
5. Take it Day by Day
It’s also important to remember to take it day by day. Mental health isn’t something you find a magical cure for overnight. It’s a daily process, just like any other health aspect we deal with. Think of it as something you need to be mindful of daily, just like you would brushing your teeth or sleeping. When you remember that what you do affects how you feel mentally, it’s easier to find the help and resources to put those things into action. We support you along the way and want to help you feel your best mentally and physically as we help you #LoveYourGuts with Lifeway kefir, Farmer Cheese, and our vegan, probiotic Lifeway Oat. Check out all our products and where to find them near you to get more feel-good probiotics into your day!
**As always, if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, and other related health issues regarding mental health, DO NOT be ashamed. It is okay to reach out to a professional and get help. We all struggle at some point in life, and reaching out for help is a sign of bravery and courage, not a sign of weakness. You can contact the National Alliance on Mental Health helpline at www.nami.org/help or 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).