The Key to Supporting Mental Health

by VitaGene Support

How best would you describe your day? Is it busy but everything goes smoothly, and you respond positively to whatever challenges arise, or does it feel more like everything is a frantic juggle and you literally cannot take on board a single additional thing? The difference in how a day can feel has much to do with how resilient you are to life’s stressors, because it is your degree of resilience that helps you adapt to an ever-changing environment.

So, how can you build resilience? This begins with acknowledging that life can get stressful (no matter who you are or what you do) and just as you know eating well is good for your physical wellbeing, supporting mental health requires regularly incorporating the lifestyle strategies shown to be beneficial. 

While stress is a word used a lot, in this context it refers to the physical response of your body to demands made upon it, whether they are physical, mental, or emotional. This is important to understand as ongoing, unmanaged stress can be harmful – the adrenaline you need to power through a really busy day is the same chemical body signal that would be released if something sudden and life threatening occurred to you.

The impact on your body is the same in both scenarios – an increase in blood pressure, faster respiration rate, a rapid heart rate, a decrease in digestive capacity, along with an eventual corresponding decrease in immune function. Known as the ‘stress response’, adrenaline is released as it is useful acutely when you need to run away from, for example, a lion – but it’s not so great if you are exposed to it on a day-to-day basis.

In fact, being in a heightened state of systemic ‘alarm’ is the reason why many people experience daily fatigue and is why sometimes innocuous events can begin to trigger a feeling of overwhelm for some people.

Moments of acute stress and tension happen to everyone; however, the aim of building resilience is to reduce the number and/or impact of these acute events. To do this requires your ongoing investment in positive health-based decisions. 

The foundational tactics with which you can help yourself enjoy a smoother ride through life:

  • Start by sprucing up your diet

Everyone has to eat so this is a logical place to start. Whilst a balanced wholefood diet is good for general health, some foods are packed with the nutrients specifically required for healthy nervous system function. These include the omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia), foods rich in zinc (meat, fish, nuts and seeds again!), vitamin D (egg yolks, oily fish, liver), magnesium (green leafy vegetables, legumes, figs, avocado, fish, nuts and seeds...again!). Avoid the refined, processed packet foods that include unhealthy fats, sugars, and artificial chemicals. Don’t underestimate the impact of dietary improvement for all aspects of health – this is your #1 tactic.

  • Carry out a personal sleep audit

It has been found that a significant number of adults sleep poorly, or not enough, which can definitely undermine mental wellbeing. After all, it’s no surprise that things can get a bit too much if you are constantly tired. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of actual sleep a night, and speak to

your Healthcare Practitioner if you are struggling, as there are herbs and nutrients available to help you improve the quality and quantity of your sleep if needed.

  • Prioritise moving

Time and time again regular exercise has been shown to be specifically beneficial

for mental health. Get outdoors if you can and walk, jog, run, cycle, kayak, hill-climb or head to the gym or a dance class if that’s your preference – as long as it’s happening regularly. Moving and exercising regularly not only reduces feelings of stress but helps improve memory, sleep, and boosts mood. General guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate to intensive physical exercise on most days of the week. Incorporating any movement helps so it’s not an ‘all or nothing’ thing – if you rarely move then start small and work up to it – the important thing is it’s regular (every day is best!).

  • Pay attention on purpose

The evidence for developing a mindfulness practice is growing with a number of studies showing people reporting less stress, improved physical and emotional health and better sleep. Plus, it can lead to the all-important physical reductions of stress-related biomarkers including blood pressure and cortisol levels (the stress hormone), as well as being good for your long-term health. So, what is mindfulness? Well, it does not necessarily have to involve meditation, but can instead be a technique applied to everyday life; a mental state whereby you practice focussing on each present moment, and calmly acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and body sensations – all without judgment.

Becoming more mindful gets easier with time and practice, and can help you to remain calm, regulate your thoughts, emotions, and reactions, and stay present even in the midst of stressful events.

  • Look after your gut bugs

Any disturbance in digestive health can contribute to mood swings, anxiety and low mood due to what’s referred to as the ‘gut-brain axis’. The beneficial microbes that reside in your

gastrointestinal tract contributes to more than your gut health so are important to look after by feeding them well. Ensure you have plenty of fibre in your diet as this is what they feed on primarily. Eat widely from a range of wholegrains, legumes, fresh nuts, and lots of colourful vegetables and fruits (unpeeled where possible). That said, if you have any digestive symptoms this is a sign that something is not quite right; but as this could be due to a range of causes, avoid the guesswork and discuss your situation with your Healthcare Practitioner.

  • Do the things you love

Maybe it's skateboarding, dancing, reading a good book, dragon boat racing, painting, bushwalking, rebuilding classic cars, whatever it is that rocks your boat, just do it and do it

regularly. Think of all the experiences you want to have that you can look back on and be grateful you made time for – that’s probably not working a 60-hour week, every week, with no ‘playtime’. Which would you prefer?

Strategic supplement support:

  • Nervous system nutrients

Like it or not it is not uncommon for adults to get insufficient magnesium from their diets, so this is one of the really helpful supplements for mental wellbeing. Not all magnesium supplements are made equal. Some are cheap and poorly absorbed and these are the ones too often for sale ‘over the counter’. Other nutrients that may have a synergistic action with magnesium, meaning they work better together than on their own, are zinc, vitamin D, B vitamins and taurine. 

Zinc has many benefits for mental health. It’s a potent antioxidant and protects the brain from damaging free radicals, reducing the occurrence of chronic inflammation, as well as supporting the production of calming brain chemicals such as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).  

Vitamin D is well known for helping to reduce the incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but has also been found to help improve mood in those experiencing negative emotions in general. 

B vitamins play a vital role in the production of a wide range of neurotransmitters and brain

chemicals, while taurine supports mood stability and a feeling of calm. Ask a suitably qualified Practitioner (e.g. Clinical Naturopath, Homeopath, Dietician) for assistance with the best nutritional solutions for your particular situation.

  • Adaptogenic herbs

This is one you may not have heard about but there is a whole class of natural

medicines termed ‘adaptogens’ due to their ability to support physical and mental health during times of stress, and which improve performance. Examples include Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), Rhodiola rosea, Panax Ginseng and Rehmannia glutinosa.

These are best discussed with a qualified Healthcare Practitioner, who can take into consideration your health history and any medications you may be taking as well as assess which herb matches your situation best (e.g. do you need a tonifying or calming adaptogenic herb?). They are very different in action. Help yourself to create a life that goes more smoothly by incorporating as many of the above strategies that you feel you could improve upon. By doing so you can look forward to improved physical, mental and emotional wellbeing for the long-term. 

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