Face masks, hot tea and cosy pyjamas, the ultimate recipe for self-care. Stressed out by work or school? Self-care. Relationship struggles? Self-care. Financial strain? Self-care. It’s the answer to everything nowadays, but the most effective form isn’t always bought in a bottle at a beauty store or inside a TV, ready to binge-watch. A healthy lifestyle encourages a healthy mind, which is the best kind of self-care you can get.
When we talk about taking care of ourselves, we often avoid touching on its less appealing counterpart: mental health. Mental health is ‘a state of wellbeing’ that allows us to cope with stress, while still productively contributing to the world around us. When we move away from this state of wellbeing, it usually fits the bill of mental illness including, but not limited to, depression and anxiety.
Mental health is largely influenced by our brain chemistry, which is affected by genetics, however, it can also be altered through chronic stress, abuse or trauma. These external stressors may become better over time, but the mental scarring has the potential to be long-lasting.
While self-care may be an oversimplified remedy for mental illness, a healthy diet and physical activity can be a great way to significantly improve your mood. Of course, in cases of severe depression, this should only be used as a supplementary method, alongside your doctor’s suggestions of medication or therapy.
As there are many factors that influence depression, there is limited evidence conclusively linking diet to the risk of depression. Despite this, scientists still recommend adopting a healthy lifestyle. This is because exercise, specifically aerobic and resistance training, has been shown to reduce symptoms of various mental illnesses. Even if you can’t fit hardcore workouts into your schedule, simply making the effort to walk 10,000 steps per day can yield similar health benefits.
Exercising regularly can promote positive change to brain chemistry. It encourages neural growth, reduces inflammation and induces feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, which are powerful chemicals that make you feel energised.
The majority of research shows that having a well-rounded and healthy lifestyle gives you the best chance at maintaining optimum mental health. While it may not be a one-size-fits-all cure, it is certainly a piece in the puzzle for maintaining and improving mental health.
When starting a lifestyle overhaul, be sure, to be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling. It’s completely normal to have ups and downs in your life, so differentiating between a bad day and depression can be difficult. Just remember to stay active, eat well and seek medical advice when you feel you need it.
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