Healthy Lifestyle: Ways to Stay Well
When you have a psychological disorder such as depression or anxiety, a healthy lifestyle should be part of your treatment program.
It's just as important to take positive measures to stay well as it is to seek treatment when you're unwell.
Below we list some things that are important for general mental well-being - and many are also important for physical well-being.
If you have other suggestions on ways of staying well, please feel free to share them with us and we'll add them to our list.
Apart from its physical benefits, exercise has been shown to have very positive effects upon mental well-being. Exercise not only releases endorphins (the 'feel good' chemicals that also alleviate pain) into our bloodstream, but also increases serotonin, which has a number of benefits including lifting our mood and helping to counteract insomnia.
The good news about exercise is that it doesn't have to be strenuous for us to feel some of these benefits. Experts say that even 30 minutes of walking at least 3 times a week is a good start.
It can help to find someone else to exercise with. This makes it sociable, as well as more likely to be regularly maintained.
Looking after your diet
Most people know that having a healthy diet is vital to good health. We tend to generally feel better when we eat well.
To summarize the key dietary guidelines for adults:
- Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
- Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
- Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
- Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives. Reduced-fat varieties should be chosen, where possible
- Drink plenty of water
- Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake
- Choose foods low in salt
- Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink
- Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.
A number of studies have shown that, in addition to looking after your diet and general nutrition, there are some specific dietary approaches that may help depression and mood disorders. They are:
- avoiding alcohol if you're a heavy drinker
- avoiding caffeine if you're sensitive to caffeine (however further research is necessary)
- increasing the amount of Omega 3 oils in your diet
- avoiding sugar (however further research is necessary).
Stress management and relaxation
Minimizing harmful stress is a vital component of mental well-being. We have shown elsewhere the key links between stress and mood disorders.
Ways of coping with stress are many and varied. Stress reduction and relaxation courses are offered by many organizations including local councils, community health centers and evening colleges. Your doctor may be able to suggest such courses. Relaxation can be as simple as taking your dog (black or any other color will do) for a leisurely stroll in a park, having a warm bath, or listening to some nice music. It can also involve more structured techniques to voluntarily control and relax the muscles. The idea is that practicing such techniques enables someone to use them whenever they begin to feel anxiety or stress developing. They include:
- 'Ten Hints to Avoid Harmful Stress' [PDF, 55KB]
- Better Health Channel, Stress in Everyday Life
- Effects of stress on the immune system: ABC Radio National, the Health Report, 27/4/98
- 'Quick Relaxation Techniques' [PDF, 65KB]
- Cognitive Therapy - 'Thinking Your Way Out of Depression' [PDF, 81KB]
- Getting adequate sleep.
Reading can be a good way of staying positive and helping to keep yourself on track, mentally. There are many titles that provide practical approaches and strategies for living with illnesses, and many of a more inspirational nature. Your local library is likely to stock some of these.
Many people find meditation a vital part of their recovery from mental illness as well as their day-to-day routine when they are well. Meditation is believed to be very helpful for people with depression.
Meditation as a practice is found in many religious and spiritual traditions but is also used by people of no particular religious denomination as a way of experiencing calmness, and heightened awareness. Alpha waves are generated when a person meditates and they result in a relaxing of the entire nervous system.
Meditation essentially involves clearing one's mind of thoughts and being mentally quiet for a period of time. There are a number of different techniques that are used to achieve this, including:
- Focusing on your breathing
- Focusing on an object, such as a candle, or something from nature such as a tree
- Using a mantra - a word or phrase that is repeated usually internally to focus the attention
- Forms of movement that focus the mind, such as yoga or tai chi.
There are many places where you can learn meditation. Your local community centre or local library may have listings of such places. You could also look up your Yellow Pages for organizations that teach meditation.
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Staff, H. (2008, December 4). Healthy Lifestyle: Ways to Stay Well, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/treatments/healthy-lifestyle-ways-to-stay-well