Did you know that 87% of Canadians reported that they are more aware of mental health issues since events like Bell Let’s talk began? Traditionally, conditions labelled under the umbrella of “mental health” were thought to have originated as genetic or biochemical imbalances. Modern research now shows there are multiple factors that impact our mental health on a daily basis, like lifestyle and environment that can also play a big role in developing any mental health condition. Here are my 5 top tips for reducing stress levels and increasing happiness on an ongoing daily basis.
5 Best Ways To Improve Mental Health
1. Deep Breathing Exercises
In today’s fast-paced environment it is very common to not breathe properly. It is so important to take a couple minutes out of your day to just focus on your breath. This can help you feel more balanced and calm during stressful periods. If the mind feels stress so does the body. The first step is to become aware of your triggers that can lead to anxiety and the second step is to find ways to manage your reactions by using relaxation tools like Deep Breathing. This technique can come in handy when you need it and even when you don’t. Try the following steps for focused breathing:
- Sit upright with your shoulders back or lie down. Your body should be as relaxed as possible
- Close your eyes and scan the body for tension
- Pay attention to your breathing. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen.
- Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose into your abdomen and count to 3 as you do this. Concentrate on breathing into the belly and not the chest.
- Exhale through your mouth, keeping your jaw relaxed (Count to 3 as you do this)
- Repeat these steps 5 times
- For added benefits infuse some lavender essential oil or lemon essential oil in a diffuser
2. Make Time for Self Care
Self-care involves any action or behaviour that you LOVE to do! It helps to reduce stress levels by improving mental, emotional and physical health. Just take 20 minutes out of your day and do something you love, whether it be, preparing for a meal, taking a bath, going for a walk with your dog, performing a 20 minute guided meditation, doing a 20 min workout video on YouTube or even putting on a face mask! Find your Zen even if its only for a few minutes in the day.
3. Physical Activity
This is one of the best and easiest ways to reduce stress and balance hormones that are associated with worry and anxiety. Performing physical exercise does not mean you need to hit the gym every day. It simply means you need to engage in some sort of physical activity, wherever and whenever you chose. The easiest way to make sure you are being active every day is to add it to your calendar and set up daily reminders. Sunday’s are a great day to set up and plan your activity schedule for the week ahead.
4. 7 Hours of Sleep
Sleep is the time that melatonin is released. This allows your body to rest and restore while repairing itself through rebuilding tissues and breaking down accumulated toxic chemicals and hormones. Studies show that 7 hours of restful sleep a night is the magic number required by our bodies. Not getting enough sleep results in increased stress, increased emotional reactivity, increased appetite and a suppressed immune system. Make sure to build a regular sleep pattern every night and don’t take sleep for granted!
5. Take Care of your GUT
Digestive health and mental health go hand in hand. Neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA (“Happy Hormones”) are mainly produced in the gut. Low levels of these neurotransmitters can be associated with many mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. So keeping the gut flora nourished can help these bacteria communicate effectively with the brain and help absorption of nutrients. Supporting the microbiome involves choosing a whole foods diet that is high in plant-based proteins, fibres and lots of fruits and vegetables; increasing fermented foods; and taking a good quality probiotic.
I hope these tips help you improve your mental health, and that you prioritize taking care of your mental health, just the same way we often prioritze our physical health. Don't forget, if you are struggling with your mental health, do not hesitate to get support from a professional.
Written By: Dr. Saira Kassam, ND | 2017