Hacking Your Daily Mental Health (Part One)
Have you ever had ruminating negative thoughts that keep you distracted and disconnected from your everyday life? Have you ever felt so low that its hard for you to get out of bed or look at yourself in the mirror, let alone look into the eyes of others? Have you ever felt like your world is going to come crumbling down because the "simplest" thing just didn't work out? Have you ever just felt so over stimulated, or even numb, that there is no activity or task that seems possible.....I know that I have felt all of these things, and more, at one point in my life or another; and chances are if you are reading this then you have too.
There is so much talk these days about eating right, exercising, and "taking care of yourself" to fight physical disease. But yet chronic stress, depression and anxiety are often the biggest precursors to some of the most fatal diseases like cancer, heart disease, obesity and autoimmune disease....and are often the least talked about too. Proper nutrition and physical exercise definitely contribute to a healthy body but the mind is one of the most powerful tools that we have and because of this if the mind is not taken care of and "healthy" it often manifests into illness.
For the majority of my life I have struggled with mental health, it's actually the reason why I originally became a counsellor many moons ago and went on to study holistic nutrition. I have gone through periods of time where life seems like it is completely and truly too much to handle and I feel like am struggling to keep my head above water; and I have gone through times where I am "balanced", full of positivity and can feel nothing but the sun on my skin even on a rainy day. In the last 10 years I have learned so much about mental health through working/learning as a counsellor and nutritionist now I must say I have way more "good" days than I do "bad" days. What I have learned is that is not only about taking care of your body physically but it is also about over coming the thought patterns/beliefs that often plague someone who is dealing with mental health and learning to live more in alignment with what is truly authentically you.
Over the years I have taken a lot of different, and sometimes drastic, steps to help heal and support my mental health. Some of it helped. Some of it didn't. And some of it if just really wasn't for me. Bellow is the beginning of some my tired and true daily tips and tricks to help support my mental health healing. While these tips and trick may not be the "magical little pill" that will fix everything in your life, they are something that will help to support you on your journey and help you to gain the confidence to take the next step in your healing. Because there is so much information and I really want to make sure you get the most out of it I have chosen to release this in 2 parts (stay tuned for the part two next week!). So if you are sick and tired of feeling "sick and tired" then this is for YOU!
Breaking Your Fast (or Breakfast). We have heard for years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but the people that we are often telling you this from rarely explain why or the makings of a breakfast that will truly make your day. If you suffer from any mental health issues what so ever you TRULY need to focus more on breakfast than others. Your first meal of the day, or breakfast, does not need to be eaten first thing when you wake up...contrary to popular belief...what it does need to be is completely BALANCED in macros with an emphasis on healthy fats and protein more than carbs! Having a breakfast that is balanced in this way will help to balance your blood sugar which will have positive impact on your mental health and functioning. All too often the first meal of the day is filled with too many carbs and not enough protein and fat which is negativity affects your blood sugar. A great examples of blood sugar balancing breakfast is 2 eggs with sautéed greens, avocado, 1/4 cup sweet potato/root vegetable, and a drizzle of avocado oil/ghee/olive oil. In this option you can also through in any vegetables you have laying around in your fridge like peppers, onions, or squash. If your not into eating animal products, or maybe just don't like eggs, another great breakfast is a superfood chia bowl made with coconut milk, pure vanilla extract (with no alcohol in it), chia seeds and then topped with 1/2 cup fresh/frozen berries (berries have the least amount of sugar when it comes to fruit), walnuts/cashews/pumpkin seeds, and shredded coconut OR cacao nibs!
Deep Breathing. So often when we are feeling low, stressed or anxious we stop breathing properly. During these times our breathing either increases becoming erratic at times (this is commonly in cases of high anxiety and stress) OR it decreases creating shallow breathing (this is mostly common in cases of depression). In each case our body is not getting the proper amount of oxygen that it needs to do all the many things that it needs to do and this greatly affects mental health/functioning. Starting your day off with a deep breathing practice, I recommend doing this within the first hour you wake up, truly helps to set the tone for your breathing for the day. These are a number of deep breathing practices that you can choose from, most coming from ayurvedic medicine and yoga, but my favourite one is this..... Start standing with hips over knees, your feet hip width apart but grounded firm in the floor, and your back straight. Bring your hands into "prayer" position at your chest and take a deep breath in, then lace your fingers pressing down as you breath out. Once your hands have reached your hips, keep your fingers laced and bring them forward and then up breathing in. Once at the top unlace your fingers and stretch your arms as wide as you can out to the side while breathing out. Once you have reached the bottom bring your hands back to "prayer" and continue. I recommend doing this for about 7-10 rounds and truly focusing on your breathing before moving on. This is also a great tool to pull out and do a couple rounds of at any point in your day where you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, stressed or anxious.
Cut the Coffee (and Energy Drinks). I love a good cup of coffee just as much as the next person but coffee is actually a medicinal herb and because of this there is a time and place for it to be used and times when it should not be used. If you are going through a particularly stressful time whether it is because of mental health or it is just a busy time during your life you need to cut the coffee! The caffeine that is found in coffee actually reacts differently in the body than other forms of caffeine found in teas, raw chocolate or other natural sources of caffeine. The caffeine found in coffee can have side effects such as shaky/jittery feeling, unclear thinking/brain fog, headaches, and even vision problems. This type of caffeine has also shown direct correlation to worsen anxiety and depression in many studies. But don't fret...If your like me and sometimes need a little pick me up in the morning there are a couple of really great options for you! My favourite thing to drink when I am off coffee is actually Matcha, a Japanese green tea, which has a mood boosting/mellowing nutrient in it called L-Theanine that actually helps to mellow out the caffiene in it while still giving you the increased focus and energy! Matcha also makes a lovely and easy at home latte if you add 1 tsp of it into a blender with 8-10oz hot water and 4oz nut milk of choice (I really like coconut milk). If your not into Matcha you can also try a herbal coffee made from an energy/focus boosting medicinal mushroom powder like Chaga, Lions Mane, or Cordyceps....and I promise that they don't actually taste ANYTHING like the culinary mushrooms so many people dislike!
Dance Parties. Have you ever just danced like no one is watching you when you hear you favourite song? How did you feel? I bet you felt amazing! Dancing is such a great way to truly get in touch with your body and how it is feeling. Our bodies store and hide so many unexpressed feelings even when we are healthy functioning individuals, and when you add in mental health/distress/illness there is often even more of this. So often when we are dealing with mental health/illness we detach from our bodies because the feelings we are going through are so strong and feeling them becomes too painful. This detachment from your feelings and body can truly hinder your healing as in order to move through emotions and heal the trauma/stress that so often caused these feelings we need to truly feel the emotion in all of its fullness. Doing activities such as having a dance party can get you to start truly feeling into your body and releasing some of these emotions. Dance parties are so great to because you get to listen to your favourite song (such a mood booster on its own), move your body (another great mood booster), you can be as silly as you want (I bust out the shopping cart or sprinkler from time to time), don't need to be time consuming (1 song or 10 its up to you) and can be done by yourself or with a great group of people. I honestly have AT LEAST ONE dance party a day (and I recommend you try to too) whether its driving in my car, cooking in my kitchen, or hanging out with some friends listening to jams!
Protein and Fat. Now yes I know I kind of mentioned this when we covered breakfast but there is another reason that protein and fat is so important for mental health/wellness. Protein and fat is actually the building blocks of your hormones and neurotransmitters which definitely need to be in check if your dealing with mental health issues. Every meal, and snacks too, should have a good dose of protein and fat with a moderate amount of complex carbohydrates (this means very little to zero breads, pastas, white rice and other processed grains). For so long there was a war on fat in our "American" culture and we bombarded our bodies with "fat free" items, and animal products that came from animals that could not put on the lean mass associated with movement but instead the bulk mass of non movement....it is no coincidence that we now live in a society/culture where mental illness is a very prevalent thing. There are so many cultures (like the French) that did not fall into this food industry trap and kept eating their quality healthy fats/proteins and are not seeing nearly as many individuals suffering from mental health issues. A proper balanced plate for a meal should have about 5oz of quality protein, 1/4 cup of complex carbohydrates, 2 cups of high fiber veggies/greens, and about 1/4 cup of fat (does not need to all be from the same source for fat, for example you could have an oil and some nuts/seeds). Some great healthy fats to choose from to include in every meal are; avocado, nuts/seeds, coconut oil/milk/butter, olive oil, pasture raised eggs, and grassfed butter/ghee. Some great quality protein sources to choose from for those who consume animal products are; cold water fish, grassfed red meat, wild game meat (like bison, venison and boar) and pasture raised poultry. If you are not a meat eater some good quality protein sources are; quinoa, chia seeds, organic tofu/tempeh, chickpeas and black beans. You will notice that most of the protein sources listed in this group are also carbohydrates, this is very important to keep in mind when you are building your plate as you still do not want too many carbs and to keep everything in balance!