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Five ways to improve your mental health – NeuLine Health

Five ways to improve your mental health

By Lisa Marinelli Smith
NeuLine Health

So many forces push against us every day. Whether we feel stress from work, relationships, financial hardships, a tough decision, health issues or any number of factors, staying positive can be a challenge some days. 

Sometimes difficult situations are short-lived. Other times they don’t have a quick fix. That’s when it’s even more important to take the steps you can to improve your state of mind. 

Here are some tips:

Exercise

This may sound like a broken record, and for some, the prospect of exercising induces more stress. The key is to find a form of exercise you enjoy and will stick with.

You don’t have to do high-intensity interval training or run several miles. Brainstorm all your options and find a few forms of exercise that appeal to you. 

What about:

  • Dancing
  • Doing yard work and gardening
  • Golfing
  • Hiking
  • Pilates
  • Playing a sport like basketball, tennis or baseball
  • Swimming
  • Tai chi 
  • Walking
  • Yoga, or even chair yoga if you can’t get on the ground 

Exercise increases the production of feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. These hormones regulate and improve your mood and help you achieve a more positive outlook. 

Besides the neurological effects of exercise, working out gives you a sense of accomplishment and improves your physical health in so many ways:

  • Better heart health 
  • Improved balance, reduced risk of falls 
  • Higher good cholesterol levels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower diabetes risk
  • Reduced cancer risk
  • Stronger bones and muscles 
  • Weight loss

Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is a critical function of our mental and physical health because it allows our brain and body to reset and restore.

Poor sleep affects memory, judgment and mood. Sleep deficiency lowers your body’s defenses against diseases and medical conditions. 

According to the Sleep Foundation, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. If your sleep routine is sketchy, here are some tips from the Sleep Foundation to improve it: 

  • Establish a realistic bedtime and stick to it every night.
  • Limit screen time. The blue light emitted from the screen tampers with our circadian rhythm by tricking the body that it’s still daytime. Experts suggest putting screens away one to two hours before bed. 
  • Make sure you have a pleasant sleep environment, including your mattress, pillows, and sheets.
  • Set your room to a comfortable temperature setting and dim the lights. 
  • Stay away from caffeine, alcohol and large meals in the hours leading up to bedtime.

If you consistently have trouble sleeping or feel tired most days, you may have sleep apnea. Your doctor can order an EEG to look at your brain wave patterns while you sleep to determine if you have a sleep disorder. 

EEGs, short for electroencephalograms, are painless, non-invasive tests that track electrical activity produced when neurons in the brain transmit messages to each other.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Many of us “stress eat,” and that usually means grabbing junk food. True, chocolate makes most of us happy. Sugary sweets and drinks and snacky carbs give us a quick energy boost, but it doesn’t last. 

Instead, focus on: 

  • Antioxidants – Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, kale, beets, red grapes and dark chocolate are among the foods that provide antioxidants, which reduce cell damage. 
  • Healthy fats – Some foods, like fatty fish and walnuts, boost your brain health. Other healthy fats include avocados, olive oil, almonds, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans and cashews.  
  • Healthy proteins – According to the Cleveland Clinic, eating protein-packed food, such as fish, beef, chicken, turkey, tofu, beans, eggs and unsweetened yogurt, has been linked to higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. 
  • Leafy greens – Leafy green foods like broccoli, spinach, kale, collards and romaine lettuce are filled with Vitamin K and folate, which aid the body in healthy cell production and reducing inflammation. 
  • Whole-grains – It takes longer for your body to break down complex carbohydrates in whole grains into simple sugars. These complex carbohydrates give you energy over a longer time.

Make Connections

Humans are wired to be around others. Sure, we may crave “alone time” occasionally, but as the pandemic has shown us, we also need time with our friends and family. 

Yes, it’s easier to text than to pick up the phone or plan to get together with someone, but those in-person talks are when you can truly check in with one another, problem-solve, and share your ups and downs. 

As we also learned during the pandemic, video chats are a close second and are better than no interaction. 

But all of that can backfire if you surround yourself with negative people or situations. If you feel drained or down after being with a friend, family member or group of friends, it may be time to distance yourself to spend time with those who uplift you and have your back. 

Also, be cognizant if social media or the news is having the same effect. Take a break if you find yourself becoming more frustrated, afraid or angry. 

When we make connections, we can also develop a sense of purpose that makes us happier, whether that’s by taking care of your family, your pets, volunteering, helping a neighbor or joining a club where others are counting on you.

Dial in Your Stressbusters

Stressbusters vary for different people. While running a few miles or blaring music during a weight lifting session may give some of us stress relief, others prefer meditation or yoga. 

Here are some more ideas: 

  • Catch up on your favorite shows
  • Clean – Most of us get a lot of satisfaction just cleaning out a junk drawer. 
  • Do crosswords, word finds, sudoku or puzzles 
  • Get outside, especially on a sunny day. If you’re lucky enough to live near the water, spend some time walking or contemplating nearby. 
  • Read 
  • Take a walk with a friend
  • Walk your dog. Not only does it give you a sense of purpose, but you also get moving. Plus, there’s a good chance you might stop and chat to another dog walker in the process. 
  • Write in a journal, including a gratitude journal to remember the good when you need to counteract the bad

Getting Professional Help

Sometimes, feeling sad or depressed is more than fleeting and may require professional help. If you don’t know where to get treatment, start by contacting your primary care provider.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a free, confidential national helpline (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is open 24/7, 365-days-a-year for treatment referral and information – 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Resources:

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