Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit us a few years ago and highlighted the importance of mental health, the stress of living in the 21st century has also taken its toll on some of us. Social media, for example, has an impact on how we live our lives. Not everyone constantly experiences Insta-worthy moments so it can be tough to keep up with all the ‘noise’ around us.
Looking after our mental health should be just as crucial as paying attention to our physical health and any worrying symptoms that may arise. For example, we know the importance of exercise and having me-time to centre ourselves. But sometimes, mental health triggers are overlooked, mostly because we aren’t aware of them and their impact. Here are five surprising things that affect your mental health.
We get that leaving the comfort of your couch is just too much to ask on some days. This is especially difficult with our weather that seems to flit between too-hot-tropical-heat and too-scary-to-go-out-thunderstorms. Why wouldn’t you want to stay at home or in an air-conditioned mall or restaurant?
However, being outdoors while the sun is shining is good for our mood. When we’re exposed to sunlight, our brain releases more serotonin, a hormone that improves our mood. People with low levels of serotonin are at a higher risk of depression. Being somewhere surrounded by nature is a bonus.
Being out in the light also means you’ve done some exercise – and we all know how good that is for us too. If you can’t leave the house, at least ensure that you’re letting some sunlight in, instead of sitting in dark room with the curtains drawn.
Having friends is beneficial for our mental health as the connections you make with others are good for your mood. On the other side of this spectrum is being lonely all by yourself. Prolonged loneliness is linked to mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
It doesn’t matter how many friends you have – you could have just two best friends you see every couple of weeks or be a social butterfly with meet-ups booked every night of the week. What matters is that you maintain strong connections with others and surround yourself with people you are comfortable and can be yourself with.
What you eat is also a factor that determines your mental health. While no particular diet is going to improve your mental health, try to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into your meals. People who generally eat healthy have a lower risk of depression. Eating lots of snacks – or food high in carbohydrates – has the opposite effect.
Don’t forget to drink lots of water too. Water helps to make neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals between your brain cells and hormones that control your body’s and brain’s processes. Being even slightly dehydrated could make you feel irritable, anxious and less mentally alert.
While we’re on the subject of drinking, let’s be clear that water is the best option. Drinks like coffee and alcohol could have adverse effects on your mental health if you consume too much of them.
How often you laugh
It has been said that laughter is the best medicine and it actually might be true when it comes to your mental health. Whether you get your laughs from your favourite comedy series, funny YouTube videos or hanging out with your friends, you should make sure you laugh every day.
When you laugh, you’re telling your brain that you’re feeling good and relaxed and this keeps issues like stress and anxiety at bay.
Whether you’re working from home or at the office, chances are that you’re usually slumped over your laptop for most of the day. A 2017 study showed that being in a stooped position negatively affects your mood. So remember to sit up straight and take a break every hour or so to move around. Set an alarm if you have to – this is one time looking at your phone might actually be good for your posture.
Text: Balvinder Sandhu/HerWorld