Talking Point: How to improve your mental health

Author Nita Saini on fighting depression, with or without the pills…

Back in February 2011 Nick Clegg said “There is no health without mental health” and since then the government has started to put together a framework so that GPs can signpost patients to talking therapies as an alternative to (or in addition to) prescribed pills.

Talking therapies, such as counselling and psychotherapy, were chosen by the government after NICE (National Instituite for Health and Care Excellence) carried out expensive, extensive research into the success rate of talking therapies for those suffering with depression, anxiety or other emotional ailments.

On top of this, GPs are prescribing self-help books to support patients’ emotional wellbeing. Talking therapies and self-help books are an incredible step in the right direction. I’m certainly an advocate of both. I firmly believe that there is more that GPs and the general public can do that would make the approach to mental wellbeing a more holistic one.

I myself used talking therapies as part of my own recovery long before its benefits had been proven through expensive NICE research. I also ate foods that supported my emotional wellbeing and took up gentle daily exercise. It is this complete, holistic approach that helped me to come off (and stay off!) the high daily dose of 40mg of anti-depressants.

As well as prescribing pills and talking therapies, GPs could provide more information on nutrition and exercise, and through this encourage patients to make small but effective lifestyle changes. But while we wait for GPs or others to provide this additional support, we are giving away our ability to be proactive and help ourselves.

Taste success

Some people might say what we eat and drink doesn’t affect how we feel. Have you ever drank alcohol and noticed how it makes you feel? Or have you ever drank a cup of coffee or a caffeine-laden energy drink and it helped perk you up temporarily? We all know that what we put into our bodies does affect our mood. Temporarily and superficially coffee and energy drinks stop us feeling tired. However, their long-term effects on our physical and mind wellbeing can be detrimental.

The effect of some food and drinks on us may not be so apparent, but instead more subtle, and they gradually play havoc with our stress levels and contribute to mood swings. Carbohydrates such as wheat, and foods high in sugar are such foods and may contribute to low mood.

Sometimes we think we do not have the money to eat well. But often, it is highly processed foods, those that are detrimental to our bodies, that tend to be over priced. Compare the cost of a breakfast cereal full of additives and e-numbers that have minimal nutritional value with a cereal such as porridge oats. The oats are far cheaper and far healthier.

Become more aware of the nutritional value of the food you are eating. Reduce your intake of highly processed foods and foods high in carbohydrates and sugar which increase levels of adrenaline and cortosol – the stress hormones, causing us to feel wired and anxious.

Instead, choose to eat foods which nurture you from the inside out. Some increase the production of serotonin and dopamine, the feel good hormones, such as brown rice, chicken, turkey, eggs, green leafy vegetables, lentils, nuts, fish, bananas and milk. Ensure you drink water throughout the day too, to keep you hydrated.

Fit tip

Exercise has also been proven to increase the level of happy chemicals in our bodies. In these austere times, keeping fit does not have to be expensive either. Walking and gentle stretching can be the cheapest and often of most benefit. If you can’t yet go out, do step-ups on the bottom step of the stairs, or walk on the spot indoors.

At one point I didn’t want to live. I used talking therapies, nutrition, and exercise to support my recovery. I found that the more I took care of both my physical and mind health, the happier I became.

I’ve been on all sides of the fence; taken anti-depressants, read self-help books, had bad and exceptionally good experiences with talking therapies, and improved my nutritional intake and my exercise regime. Because of this, I feel I’m in an informed position to appreciate and understand the role a holistic approach plays in enhancing our mind wellbeing.

I understand that one size doesn’t fit all. Find what works for you and stick to it; eating well and regular exercise can only be good for us.

Eat Well, Get Physical and Talk to people who support your wellbeing.

I wish you a plethora of mind wellbeing now and always.

With love

Nita x

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