Managing Mental Health Naturally…

mental healthIt is mental health week and it is a good time to take a look at natural ways of supporting our body-mind.

Research confirms that rates of anxiety and depression are increasing – even among children and adolescents. While mental health issues are wide and varied with different causes and presentations, the fact that they are all increasing suggests that the cause may be connected to our modern life and changing habits. Social isolation, increased work hours and pressure as well as the constant 24-7 digital life we all lead can give rise to mental health issues. Depression and anxiety are clear signs that there is an imbalance in one or more areas of our life. Taking a holistic look at mental health naturally includes looking at diet, lifestyle, stress levels, sleep habits, relationships and work-life balance. All of these things can impact on our quality of life, happiness and ability to cope. Finding the area that is out of balance and making positive and healthy changes is essential in getting lasting results.

Many patients that I see in my practice are under stress – both short term stress as well as low-grade persistent stress. Aside from depression, anxiety and mood swings, other signs that your body is not coping with stress can include poor sleep, recurrent infections and slow recovery from illness, digestive disorders, fatigue, headaches and muscle tension and pain. People who are stressed are also more likely to use or abuse alcohol and other drugs to cope and this in turn can trigger mental health issues.

stjohnwortDietary changes can help cope with stress and anxiety and improve moods. Eating regularly and not skipping meals is very important to maintain blood sugar, energy and moods. Protein is particularly important in the diet as it contains amino acids that are important precursors for our neurotransmitters that help regulate our mood, such as serotonin, GABA and dopamine.

Supplementing with nutrients, such as B vitamins and magnesium, can be helpful to support the body and mind under stress. I find herbs to be excellent at calming and rejuvenating a stressed body and mind and they are a great alternative to pharmaceutical medications for many people. Herbs work on both supporting the adrenals as well as having a direct effect on the nervous system to decrease anxiety or depression, without the common side effects associated with antidepressants.

As we have seen, stress often causes or accompanies many mental health issues, so stress management techniques are essential. A good strategy that everyone can learn to do is relaxation/meditation. The benefits of meditation have been well studied in recent years, with positive effects reported for conditions ranging from pain, heart disease and cancer to anxiety and depression.When we relax the heart rate slows, the mind quietens, the muscles soften and the body can concentrate on healing and functioning properly. It also helps us to get a better perspective on life and be less reactive. Other techniques such as yoga, exercise and massage can also be employed to help improve moods and wellbeing.

Having emotional support from family and friends can really help with our ability to cope and manage mental health issues. Despite our all-pervasive social media access, many people are more isolated than ever and lack meaningful interpersonal contact. Having someone to talk through problems with and get useful tips and strategies from can make a real difference. Undertaking professional counselling is also a great tool to help manage mental health issues and is especially important for people who lack social support.