For many people, it feels more impossible than ever to escape stress. Mental health experts often recommend techniques like meditating or journaling to reduce stress, but did you know that your body’s physical health plays a big role in your mental and emotional wellbeing? One of the simplest ways to promote a calmer inner life is by attending to your body’s needs. Read on for three ways to take care of your body so that your mind stays healthy, too.
Anxiety and Depression: Is It All in Your Gut?
If you sometimes suffer from inexplicable stomachaches, you’re not alone; even experienced doctors admit that chasing down the cause of a patient’s stomach pain can be tricky in some cases. Recent medical research has sparked renewed interest in the origins of mysterious stomach pain, which may be linked to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome. In patients with this issue, the contents of the digestive tract leak into the bloodstream via microscopic perforations that form in the small intestine. Leaky gut can arise due to genetics, poor diet, and stress—and, in an unfortunate feedback loop, the inflammation triggered by this leakage can also lead to depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, even if you have underlying risk factors for leaky gut syndrome, there are steps you can take to reduce its effect on your body and brain. First, strive to eat an anti-inflammatory, Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of lean protein, whole grains, olive oil, and produce to reduce chronic, systemic inflammation. You’ll get the most benefit from a healthy diet if you include supplements that are formulated to target leaky gut syndrome and improve digestive health, like Gundry MD Total Restore. If you want to eliminate all sources of inflammation from your diet, cut out alcohol, too; even a single drink has a negative effect on your body.
Moving for a Healthy Mind: The Exercise Prescription
Most people know how important exercise is for a healthy body, but clinical psychologists and counselors are increasingly embracing exercise as a key tool for maintaining and improving their clients’ mental health. Exercise boosts blood circulation and stimulates the natural production of norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, all of which are linked to improved mood and greater mental wellbeing. You don’t have to become an Olympic athlete to benefit, either; thirty minutes of moderately intense exercise, like brisk walking or gardening, done three times a week is all you need to feel happier, maintain your weight, and even reduce your blood pressure.
Healthy Sleep: The Cornerstone of Mental Health
Gone are the days of exhausted students, parents, and office workers taking pride in how little time they manage for sleep; modern research has clearly demonstrated the criticality of sleep for health. Without a solid seven to eight hours, your skin will look older; your muscles won’t grow as much after your workout; and, as anyone who has suffered through a long day after a sleepless night can attest, your judgment, attention span, and mood will all suffer, too. Particularly if you already deal with anxiety, depression, or similar problems, losing out on sleep will make you more vulnerable to intense negative emotions and interfere with your ability to regulate your mood.
Unfortunately, while sleep interferes with mental health, mental health problems also interfere with sleep. Lying awake at night and ruminating, when you fixate on negative thoughts and can’t seem to put them from your mind, is a gateway to poor sleep quality and insomnia. Simple strategies like good sleep hygiene—reserving your bed for sleep, turning off electronics at least an hour before bed, and practicing physical relaxation techniques—can help. Many people prone to rumination find it helpful to jot down future concerns and to-do items for the next day in a journal before heading to bed to trick their minds into believing the worry has been addressed.
Simple self-care activities like exercising, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep are important for your physical health, but they’re also crucial for your emotional wellbeing. Once you integrate these healthy habits into your daily life, you’ll wonder how you lived without them!