Physical and mental health are much more connected than many people realize. The mind-body connection is real. This means that taking care of your physical health can help improve your mental health.
Making simple changes to lifestyle habits — such as physical activity, diet, and sleep — can go a long way toward boosting how you feel inside and out. Here’s how this works — and some tips to help you get started.
Exercise benefits both physical and mental health. In some cases, exercise is used to supplement or even replace the use of medication to treat certain mental health conditions.
Exercise has been used as part of treatment for a variety of different mental illnesses, including:
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
Working out regularly can improve your mood and reduce panic attacks. Working out can also lower stress, enhance brain function, and boost self-esteem.
Having a regular exercise plan can sound daunting, but breaking up the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise into five half-hour sessions can help. And you don’t even have to do all 30 minutes at once. You can do three 10-minute sessions or two 15-minute workouts, depending on what fits into your schedule.
If the word “workout” makes you break into a cold, dread-filled sweat, keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you have to pump iron at the gym to fulfill your body’s exercise needs. A brisk walk around the block is fine, too.
What you eat can also either help or hurt your mental health. Sometimes it can be more convenient to skip meals or eat lots of processed foods, but there’s a reason why you may feel bad both physically and mentally after overindulging.
Your stomach and brain are linked by a nerve that lets you know you’re hungry. But this nerve also explains why major stress can make you feel sick to your stomach.
You should aim to eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and unsaturated fats. Try trading your usual pastas and breads for whole grain options — such as 100 percent whole wheat bread, or whole grain spaghetti.
A healthier diet like this can boost your mental health by:
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Controlling depression
- Giving you more energy
- Helping you sleep better
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Water should be your number one go-to for fluids. You may have heard the advice to drink eight glasses of water each day. This is a great goal, but everyone’s water needs vary, based on factors such as your overall health or exercise habits. Just make sure to always drink when you feel thirsty, and to talk to your physician or a nutritionist if you need help determining how much water you need on a daily basis.
Getting enough water is important because it can prevent dehydration. Dehydration can cause mood swings. And since mood swings can already be a symptom of a mental health disorder, it’s good to avoid something that could make them worse.
You should also cut down on coffee to improve your mental health. Caffeine can ramp up your anxiety. Tea is a healthier option, with less caffeine than coffee. Sweetened coffee can also be high in sugar, which is not great for your health either. In general, sugary drinks — like juice and specialty coffees — should be consumed in moderation.
Make Time for Sleep
Sleep allows you to recharge your body — including your brain. If you aren’t recharging your mind and body properly, this may cause problems for your mental health.
Your goal should be to get between seven and nine hours of sleep daily, preferably at night.
Getting too little or too much sleep — or not sleeping when your body needs rest, can lead to:
- Bad moods
- Decreased physical activity
- Depression and anxiety
Put a Stop to Unhealthy Habits
Making changes to your physical health can also make breaking unhealthy habits easier — which in turn can improve your mental health. For instance, exercise can help with treating addiction.
Bad habits — such as smoking — might feel like they help to calm the symptoms of your mental illness. However, your body becomes dependent on the chemicals found in cigarettes — which can harm your physical and mental health.
While making these changes may seem daunting, you don’t have to tackle them on your own. The behavioral health specialists at Stormont Vail Health are here to help you start on a path toward better physical and mental health.