Mental health matters a lot more than people believe, and the truth is that it can be complicated. From the stressors you face to your self-care routine, every aspect of your life impacts your mood and outlook.
Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act, but it’s not as simple. By setting the tone for our mood, our mental well-being influences how we relate to others, respond to events, and make choices. It impacts our ability to function on a daily basis, and that doesn’t always make it easy to handle life’s surprises.
H2: The Role of Stress
External factors can have definite impacts on the way we feel. COVID-19 is a perfect example–one of the biggest surprises in the life of every human. The pandemic stroke us unexpectedly and forced us to change our routines drastically.
One Pettable survey of 1,500 Americans found that the majority of age groups came out of the pandemic with worse mental health than they had when it started. The same research revealed that the effects were particularly extreme in 2020: The sheer unpredictability of the global emergency contributed to declining mental health in 55% of all respondents–making it the biggest driver of dropping mental health.
The survey also reinforced other well-known realities of stress–like that there are bidirectional relationships between different aspects of human well-being.
For example, research has shown that mental health doesn’t just impact physical health. The opposite can also happen, and Pettable’s study noted an example. It found that people who exercised daily during peak COVID were 23% more likely to get through the pandemic with better mental health.
H2: Food’s Benefit on Mental Health
The connection between diet and mental health is complex but increasingly gaining scientific street credibility. More and more people are noticing the impact that the food we consume can have on our mental health, and there’s a growing body of evidence supporting this belief.
There are many possible ties between what people eat and their mental health. According to Harvard Health Blog editor Eva Selhub, MD, one link may have to do with one of the happy chemicals, serotonin. Human bodies create and use serotonin for many reasons, the most notable one being that it influences everything from moods and pain perception to appetite, sleep, and emotions. What’s interesting here is that most serotonin production occurs in the intestines, which means that our ability to create this “happy chemical” is strongly influenced by the conditions in our GI tract. In other words, when eating healthy, your GI tract is in good condition and produces serotonin to make you feel happy.
Dr. Selhub writes that when studies compared different ways of eating, certain styles seemed more beneficial for those with mental health issues like depression. For instance, people who had more of a “traditional diet”, like the Japanese or Mediterranean, had better odds of avoiding depression than those who ate “Western” diets.
The key distinction lay in the diets’ nutritional content. The processed and refined foods, sugars, dairy, and lean meats typical in “Western” diets contributed to a 25% to 35% higher depression risk. By contrast, fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, naturally probiotic fermented foods, and other characteristic aspects of traditional diets played roles in their mental health and GI-tract advantages.
H2: Other Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health
We can now easily determine that food is essential to your mental health, but it’s not the only thing. In addition to eating a GI-tract-friendly diet, it can be useful to:
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Practice meditation or mindfulness
- Do things you enjoy and that make you feel good for the long haul instead of just temporarily
- Spend time in nature
- Connect with friends and loved ones
- Seek professional, accredited help
There’s no one answer to taking care of your mental health. It’s important to be open to finding what works for your life and that you can sustain. Mental wellness shouldn’t be a stress factor, so don’t worry if it doesn’t come easily. What matters is that you continue taking care of yourself!