Today’s world is that of fast pace, technology overhaul, hustle and bustle where it has become the norm for our little friend stress to sit on our shoulders.
Stress weighs heavily, guiding us through the never-ending list of tasks to be completed before we crawl into bed at night. Stress is so predominant in our daily lives that it has become an unwanted (yet tolerated) part of life. It wreaks havoc on our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and, most importantly, our health.
Mental Health Statistics
The latest figures provided by the Bureau of Statistics report that there are currently over 4 million Australians living with a mental or behavioural condition, with 2.6 million people having an anxiety-related condition and 2.1 million with mood affective disorders such as depression (1). Even with staggering statistics such as these, there still remains a stigma attached to the somewhat taboo topic of mental health. Fortunately, depression and anxiety can be managed and even reduced through simple yet effective lifestyle changes.
We’ve all been there – it’s a Friday night with as much food in the fridge as the energy you have to cook. You look down at your phone and the Uber eats app beckons you to use it, you’ve already cooked your “go-to” meals of spaghetti, lasagne, chicken pie and Indian curry during the week and you’re all out of ideas. After your Uber eats a meal of burgers and chips you sit rubbing your stomach and think to yourself, “Wow I feel so full and bleurgh after eating that”. The next morning you awake feeling slightly bloated or sluggish, you feel irritable at tiny things, have brain fog and can’t quite remember if it was a 9:30 or 10 am appointment in the morning. This is because your gut microbiota (otherwise known as gut flora) has been compromised from not only the Uber eats indulgence from the night before but the lead up of high carbohydrate, high saturated fat dinners you have cooked during the week (3).
A diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars (like that of the Friday night takeaway meal) can contribute to behavioural conditions leading to conditions such as anxiety and depression (2). It is imperative to have a healthy gut with balanced bacteria to aid with digestion, to assist with the production of Vitamin B & K (vitamin Bs have been linked to helping with symptoms of depression) and for optimal brain function (7). Although a relatively new concept, there are many studies being conducted with increasing evidence suggesting that behaviour and mood can be affected in many ways by unbalanced gut microbiota, thus supporting the idea of the Food and Mood connection (5).
Nourishing Foods Help Improve Your Mental State
Food to a human is like petrol to a car. We need to fill our bodies with good quality, nutritious food to keep running effectively and as efficiently as possible. Food is something that can be modified to positively improve brain health across a lifespan (4). For those with anxiety and depression, it is even more important to eat foods that will help optimise and aid their brain function. Have you ever noticed how much a walnut actually looks like a brain? Walnuts are enriched with Omega-3 fatty acids that protect the brain and antioxidants that help combat inflammation (6). Other simple food suggestions for increasing your essential fatty acid intake include adding chia, hemp seeds and/or flaxseeds in your morning smoothie.
When we start to use ingredients we know are nourishing for our bodies and minds, we become more aware of how eating this way makes us feel energetic and motivated compared to that “bleurgh” feeling we feel after a big meal of pasta or burgers.
Practice MindfulnessMindfulness, a commonly used term in the world of wellness, can have a positive impact in your life, not only when preparing food, but practising it daily for any task or situation. Originally used in Buddhism and yoga, mindfulness is now being considered as a treatment for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Mindfulness is the practice of using nonjudgmental awareness in the present moment to encourage openness and acceptance.
A quick guide to practising Mindfulness:
- Allow yourself to be in the now
- Bring attention to your breath, especially belly breathing!
- Become aware of any thoughts wandering in and out of your mind
- Be appreciative for all that you have
- Pay close attention to all the “wins” you have during the day.
You could always try writing in a journal every night before you go to bed, watch the positiveness seep into your life by writing three things you’re grateful for OR three positive things that happened that day – it works wonders just taking the time to be grateful!
Attending a Workshop
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is such an important part of any lifestyle change. It’s so much easier to keep going, knowing there are others around you that understand where you are at and will support you through it.
References.1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/Mental-Health
2. Bondolfi, G. (2013). 2993 – is mindfullness an evidence-based treatment? European Psychiatry, 28, 1-1. doi:10.1016/S0924-9338(13)77507-2
3. Cryan, J. F., & Dinan, T. G. (2012). Mind-altering microorganisms: The impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour. Nature Reviews.Neuroscience, 13(10), 701-12. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/10.1038/nrn3346
4. Hakkarainen, R., Partonen, T., Haukka, J., Virtamo, J., Albanes, D. & Lönnqvist, J. (2004) Food and nutrient intake in relation to mental wellbeing. Nutrional Journal, 14(3). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-3-14
5. Jørgensen ,B., Hansen, J., Krych, L ., Larsen, C., Klein, A., Nielsen, D., Josefsen, K., Hansen, A. & Sørensen, D. (2014). A Possible Link between Food and Mood: Dietary Impact on Gut Microbiota and Behavior in BALB/c Mice. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103398
6. Kunkle, F. (2014). Study: Walnuts promote brain health. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/docview/1622542104?accountid=10675
7. Vitamin B helps overcome depression. (1993). Executive Health’s Good Health Report, 29(5), 8. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/apps/doc/A13636025/AONE?u=cowan&sid=AONE&xid=ce145f44Vitamin b helps overcome depression. (1993). Executive Health’s Good Health Report, 29(5),
8. Vitamin b helps overcome depression. (1993). Executive Health’s Good Health Report, 29(5), 8