May brings the official start to Mental Health Awareness Month. It is time for a ‘mental health check-in’ and a check-in for our collective mental health could not be timelier. Let’s take a look at how a simple routine can help mental health.
The last few months has brought Mental Health to the forefront as we face an unknown enemy in the coronavirus and the absolute devastation that many parts of the country and the world in general, have experienced because of it. There has not only been unforeseen death, loss and grave illness, there are extreme economic uncertainties, food and supply shortages and financial worries, and unemployment along with strictly enforced social isolation. Humanity as we know it, has had to change and it has been a difficult adaptation for many. It used to be that Mental Health Awareness was focused on about one in five people. In a short period of time, it is now estimated that five out of five of us, (yes, all of us), are experiencing some kind of mental health issues with worry, uncertainty about the future, isolation, anxiety, financial stress and loneliness during this present crisis.
What is “Mental Health”? Mental Health is defined as “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.” Used as a noun in a sentence it would sound like this: “all this pressure seems to be affecting his mental health”. Does that sound and feel familiar? There is indeed a lot of pressure in the world right now and a lot of pressure on those of us whose lives have either changed or we have been brought to the forefront in emergency mode as suppliers of goods with a public scarcity mindset. As much as we feel that the only way to ‘fix’ any issues we might be experiencing with our mental health is to have something outside of us change; most of what is happening right now is very much out of our control.
Routines: One of the areas that the professional organization Mental Health America tells us is useful to feel more in control of our environment is to focus on our routines. Established routines help our mental health. The MHA states that “People with more daily routines have lower levels of distress when facing problems with their health or negative life events.”
The complete overturn of our daily routines is undoubtedly one of the problems that is causing so much stress and anxiety in so many people. To help regain a sense of control to help your mental health you need to re-establish daily routines; especially if those routines you had prior to the Coronavirus Crisis have been completely overturned.
Let us look at a list of some helpful tips to get started on establishing a new routine:
Create a routine that works for you: with new work-from-home schedules, home-school responsibilities, or the absence of your past routines vanishing overnight without forewarning it’s important to figure out a way to stay in balance. Look at responsibilities and create a system that can work for you and your family.
Plan ahead: Just as you did before the world health crisis began, planning your week and your days is critical to mental health and feeling in control.
Begin with small steps: All new habits take time. A popular myth is that new habits take 21 days to form. Real science tells us that it takes an average of 66 days for a habit to be formed.
To start, piggyback a new desired routine to an existing routine. For example, you can decide that you want to drink more water each day to help boost your immune system. A simple way to do this is to tie (piggyback) that desired behavior to different time frames of the day where you already have an established routine. Determine your total amount (half your body weight in fluid ounces). Then break it down – You can drink 10-16 oz of water when you wake up, before each meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner, at mid-morning break, afternoon break and before bed.
Set Written Goals each week and each day: the saying goes, “If it isn’t written, it isn’t real”. The wonderful thing about accomplishing goals, no matter how small, is that they boost your sense of control, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Make it personal, make it count, and watch how good you feel when you achieve that.
Reward Yourself: If you accomplish those daily and weekly goals, do something nice for yourself. Treat yourself to some me-time with a good book, new movie to watch or some needed rest.
Schedule Fun: Even if it’s just 15 minutes a day, do something you enjoy doing. A hobby, a walk with your kids for gym time, hike a new trail or get out on your bike and feel the freedom. Just a few minutes a day boost feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which help to quell anxiety and reduce stress.
Healthy Habits: The AHA states that “When it comes to diet, sleep and exercise, having good, strong routines is linked to improved mental and physical health.” One of the routines that often gets abruptly overturned in times of crisis is our nutrition and that is because there is such a dynamic connection between the food you eat and your mental health. This has to do with both the effect of certain foods on mood chemicals in the body called neurotransmitters and the effect of those same foods on inflammation. Certain foods can impact the number of neurotransmitters in your brain that directly affect how you feel. Stress eating becomes a cycle of highs and lows of these neurotransmitters; and your mood and mental health suffer because of it. High sugar foods, processed foods, cakes, candy, chips and other so-called comfort foods work to quickly boost the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine for a very short time and then quickly dissipate leaving you depressed, anxious and looking for another ‘fix’ of high sugar or high fat food. These same foods also trigger massive inflammation which studies show is directly related to depression.
The “Happy Mood: Diet Routine:
- Recent science shows us that people who eat a Mediterranean Diet; one that is rich in seafood, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and whole grains cut their risk of depression by almost 50% regardless of education and economic status.
- Other studies have found that those who regularly eat processed and high sugar foods were 60% more likely to develop depression over a five-year period.
- Harvard University directly linked a high sugar, high processed food diet with levels of inflammatory cytokines and depression and then found that implementing a Mediterranean Diet (low inflammatory diet) rich in leafy greens, olive oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and seafood and red wine slashed the risk of depression by 40% compared to those who ate a pro-inflammatory diet that included sugary foods and drink, processed foods and grains and red meat.
Taking care of your mental health is crucial, especially in this current health crisis. Establish a good routine both within your day and with your healthy habits.
Feed a good mood and stave off depression with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, healthy fats like olive oil and avocados.
Remember to reach out to a Rolling Strong Wellness Coach for help in establishing routines and healthy habits. If you feel that your Mental Health is suffering badly, reach out to your doctor or local mental health center for help.
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Barish-Wreden, Maxine L. “Eating Well for Mental Health.” Sutter Health, www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health.
“Is Fast Food Making Us Depressed?” BBC Future, BBC, 26 Aug. 2014, www.bbc.com/future/article/20140826-is-fast-food-making-us-depressed.