Ok, so I am excited. Tonight I am on a panel of mental health experts with Tony McManus & Hugh van Cuylenburg. In honour of the MENtal Health Resilience Forum that we’ve got going on tonight, I have summarised my five key recommendations for optimal mental health and well-being. Make these things a priority and you will be well on your way to good health and an awesome existence.
Optimising your sleep is vital for managing your well-being – it is no coincidence that sleep disturbance (too little or not enough) is a symptom of depression and anxiety.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (even on weekends within one hour of your weekday time), naps have a stigma attached but are actually great to boost wellbeing (just keep it under 20 minutes and you’ll feel refreshed – this is better than sleeping in).
Keep your room slightly cool and have a hot shower or bath before bed – going from hot to cool dilates the blood vessels and slows metabolism leaving you feeling sluggish and ready to sleep.
Get enough magnesium – have a supplement or get 20 minutes in a bath with Epsom salts 3 times a week (this will reduce restlessness in bed, reduce muscle tension and increase relaxation in the body and mind).
Remove all electronics from your room (yes you read that right) – electronics create a couple of blockages to optimal sleep; firstly your body and mind won’t know that getting into bed means sleeping so won’t start to shut down. The brain waves involved in using electronics are the opposite of the brain waves involved in sleeping and you can’t transition easily between the two states! The light emitted from the device blocks the production of your sleep hormone, basically it tricks your body into thinking it is day when it is night – your body knows it shouldn’t sleep for extended periods of time in the day (this is why shift work is a tough gig). If you are stimulating your brain with action-packed or mind-boggling games on your phone, movies, or just getting dragged down by the negativity on Facebook (!) your mind will continue to race once you turn the lights off. Even worse, our smartphones allow us to check emails right up to the second before we close our eyes, not allowing us to de-stress from work or life related responsibilities (even worse, if possible, they allow us to stay vigilant and sleep lightly in case it buzzes with a notification during the night, even if we don’t realise we are doing this). Not only is your brain and body tricked into staying awake, when you do fall to sleep the electronic devices in your room will continue to interrupt the quality of your sleep via radiation – you may sleep for 8 hours and wake up like a truck has hit you! If you need your phone for an alarm in the morning, at the very least put it in your drawer. Try to get into the habit of putting it in the drawer at least an hour before bed as this will allow those sleep hormones to start to kick in during this time. TV is ok during this hour (not ideal but ok) as the screen is larger and generally further away from your eyes than a smartphone or tablet. Download f.lux for your laptop and smart devices to reduce the impact of the light from the screens. The electronics in your room will also emit some kind of glow, usually with a little red light. This tiny red light has the ability to impact your ability to fall asleep – make sure your room is as dark as possible. As early as you can each night, dim the lighting. Once it gets dark outside you want to be emulating that inside as close as possible. Use candles or low lamps and avoid overhead lights as much as possible. If you haven’t put your phone in your drawer (naughty!) you can even use this to navigate your way into your bedroom once you are ready for bed rather than turning on all the lights on the path (otherwise get a small flashlight!) Better still; get into a routine of having your phone charger in another room so it makes you think about leaving it in that other room to charge overnight. If you wake in the night try to navigate to the bathroom in the dark with a small light, don’t turn on an overhead light on the way or when you get there! NEVER check the clock when you wake in the night, in fact my first piece of advice for poor sleepers is always to remove the clock from your room completely (this removes any glow from a digital clock and the psychological effect of the urge to check the time).
Read how I manage my sleep at My Mindful Day.
Another non-coincidence – over-eating or under-eating & loss of appetite are also symptoms of poor mental health. Acute stress creates brilliant life-preserving interactions in the body; stopping all non-essential processes to push energy and resources into the body parts that allow us to fight the stress or run from it. This means digestion is halted in its tracks. Now acute stress is great, chronic stress is not so great. Problems with food are a common sign of long-term emotional or physical stress. You should attack this two ways (1) Reduce your stress through relaxation activities or a meditation such as this free recording Full Body Meditation Detox and (2) Boost nutrient-rich and mood-enhancing foods in your diet. There is a mini-brain in your gut that produces many important chemicals for mood regulation – treat your gut well and your mind will smile. My first bit of advice is easy; just eat 2-3 Brazil nuts a day to reduce anxiety and stress. Other mood-enhancing foods include: green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, etc.), turkey, bananas, oily fish, chia seeds, chocolate (go 70%+ cocoa and fair-trade, organic if possible so you don’t get the extra nasty chemicals and pana dairy-free is a good option too). A B supplement may be important for brain functioning as well as the magnesium supplement that you’ve bought for your sleep and stress reduction. Avoid sugars, caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants that cause the nervous system to go into over-drive, leaving your frazzled and on edge. Reducing these will probably create some undesirable symptoms like headaches, but persist for 21 days and you should see some improvements in overall well-being. Join me this month for October Overhaul by liking the Laura Green Psychology Facebook page or following @lauragreenpsychology on Instagram (see photos on sidebar). This daily challenge will help you to detox your body, mind, & home. If you are interested in simple recipes using these mood boosting foods, follow me on Instagram
We have mostly all been brought up to smother negative thoughts and feelings as soon as they arise – by watching Dad have a beer after a tough day, by watching our big sister eat a tub of ice-cream after a break-up, by watching Mum running madly around the house cleaning things when she is “stressed”, and when our friends and family say to us “don’t think like that, think something positive, after all you are brilliant and smart and funny and gorgeous!” and if, heaven-forbid, someone saw you crying or looking sad you would be told to stop that immediately because big kids don’t cry!
The hell they don’t!
Coming to terms with negative thoughts and feelings as a normal part of being a human is a massive step in the well-being direction. Being able to sit with them and not “do” anything about them (not putting cigarettes or food into our bodies to cope, or relying heavily on others to boost our self-esteem) is an even bigger step. In fact, I don’t even refer to feelings like sadness, anger, or embarrassment and thoughts like “you useless dick, what’d ya do that for?” as negative experiences. They are simply experiences. What we don’t realise (because no one wants to admit it) is that everyone has these fleeting thoughts, don’t catch them as they flee!
Have a read of Notice, Name It, Let It Be – Coping With Thought and Feelings for a simple explanation of how all thoughts and feelings are normal human experiences and a simple technique for coping with the tougher ones. There is also a video that describes some creative ways for Coping with Thoughts and Feelings using Defusion. I would also suggest that men in particular don’t get enough relaxation time (because that shit is for girls!) so simple meditations like this free recording Wash Away Your Thoughts, are a good addition to your day and only take a few minutes.
You may notice that the stress in others around you creates stress in you. We are like sponges for the stress hormones floating around in other people. There are two ways to tackle this as well (1) surround yourself with people who make you feel good. This seems intuitive and, well, pretty obvious. But we don’t do this. We let others drag us down. Don’t feel guilty if you reduce your interactions with certain friends based on their ability to give you what you need in a friendship – compassion, a listening ear, a laugh, etc.; (2) The people that you do keep in your life (the ones you love like lollies and chocolate cake and cookies & cream ice-cream), boost them up! If you feel stressed and agitated at your partner or mother or kids because they seem to always be pushing your buttons, take a step back and ask yourself if they may be stressed too. Then do everything you can think of to reduce their stress (little known fact: this should reduce your stress too so try to change your attitude of “well they aren’t treating me right so I won’t treat them right” and instead do it for your own good too). If they normally cook, do it one night without being asked. Give them a neck rub after they’ve had a long day (and don’t mention how long your day has been in the process!). Do a chore that they’d normally do. Send them a text to say you appreciate them. I love this poem the Secret of Love (attributed to Brad Pitt but this is controversial…)
“Secret of Love”
My wife got sick. She was constantly nervous because of problems at work, personal life, her failures and children. She lost 30 pounds and weighted about 90 pounds. She got very skinny and was constantly crying. She was not a happy woman. She had suffered from continuing headaches, heart pain and jammed nerves in her back and ribs. She did not sleep well, falling asleep only in the mornings and got tired very quickly during the day. Our relationship was on the verge of a break up. Her beauty was leaving her somewhere, she had bags under her eyes, she was poking her head, and stopped taking care of herself. She refused to shoot the films and rejected any role. I lost hope and thought that we’ll get divorced soon… But then I decided to act. After all I’ve got the most beautiful woman on earth. She is the idol of more than half of men and women on earth, and I was the one allowed to fall asleep next to her and to hug her. I began to shower her with flowers, kisses and compliments. I surprised and pleased her every minute. I gave her a lot of gifts and lived just for her. I spoke in public only about her. I incorporated all themes in her direction. I praised her in front of her own and our mutual friends. You won’t believe it, but she blossomed. She became better. She gained weight, was no longer nervous and loved me even more than ever. I had no clue that she CAN love that much.
And then I realized one thing: the woman is the reflection of her man.
If you love her to the point of madness, she will become it.
Have a read of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, who focuses on reducing the expectations in relationships and in the process reducing your partner’s stress and boosting your wellbeing. Double win! And then read ACT With Love by Dr Russ Harris for a brilliant workbook style novel about having awesome relationships.
The first line of defence against depression and anxiety is exercise. Getting your body moving produces endorphins that boost your mood. It also tuckers you out so that you sleep better. Winning! Twenty minutes of exercise that gets your heart pumping a day, most days of the week, can be as effective as antidepressants (and if you put antidepressants in your body it will also allow your body to detox from any toxic effects the meds might have!) Antidepressants can be wonderful for boosting you up enough to use the coping strategies you need to get out of The Slump (a.k.a that terrible place where depression hangs out), but I believe they should not be seen as a long-term solution. Get out for a walk each day at the very least.
Luck & lots of love,
You might also like My Mindful Day: 14 Simple Tips for a Life of Mindfulness