When we seek help for a mental health condition, we can expect to hear about various medications and treatment options, but what’s often missing from the conversation is any talk of lifestyle changes. In a recent University of Illinois study, about half of those with symptoms of mental illness reported that they receive no wellness advice from their health care provider.
That’s a lamentable oversight because lifestyle changes—things as simple as nutrition and exercise—can have a significant impact on quality of life, for any of us, but especially for those dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They can also help minimize the development of risk factors that can lead to conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, all of which are seen at higher rates in those with mental illness, the study noted.
If you are dealing with a mental health challenge, take the initiative when speaking to your clinician. Ask for specifics on what changes you can safely make in your daily life to improve your mental health; there’s no single answer. But research has shown that lifestyle changes in several key categories can pay healthy dividends for most. Among the most powerful:
1. Enhance Your Diet
Research shows that our diet can influence our mental health, for both good and bad. Fruits and vegetable are associated with better mental well-being, according to recent research from the University of Warwick. That’s important because mental well-being—feelings of optimism, happiness, self-esteem and resilience—can help protect not only against mental health problems but physical ones as well.
Fatty foods, on the other hand, may increase the risk for psychiatricsymptoms by changing the bacteria that live in our gut, according to new research. A study done with mice showed increased anxiety, impaired memory, repetitive behavior, and brain inflammation as a result of a high-fat diet. Some fats, however, fall into the “good” category. Omega-3 fatty acids such as are found in salmon, for example, may help with some forms of depression.
Sugar, of course, should have only a minimal place in your diet. Not only can it spark rapid weight gain and an addictive response in some, it has been linked to higher rates of depression and can make mental health symptoms worse, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).