10 Healthy Habits to Improve Your Mental Health

Written by Barbara Cox, Guest Writer

We all feel blue from time to time, and these 10 health habits can play an important role in helping us lift our mood and improve our outlook on life. So, who am I to make such a statement? I’m Barbara Cox, nutritionist for over 25 years and I have worked with almost 24 000 clients. I have seen many styles of mental health issues from anxiety, eating disorders, deep manic depression to panic attacks. I also have my 23-year-old daughter with autism and anxiety is part of her daily symptoms. So I have some great experience that might help.

1. Eat a Variety of food Not only does a healthy diet help control your waistline, but smarter food choices may also help ward off symptoms of depression. The best nutritional plan to prevent depression is likely to be a varied diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. While you increase these healthy foods, cut down on the processed and pre-packaged foods you eat, according to dietary recommendations for depression published in August 2015 in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

2. Stay Hydrated Every system in the human body counts on water to function, and the brain is no exception. In fact, about 75 percent of brain tissue is water. Research has linked dehydration to depression and anxiety because mental health is driven primarily by your brain’s activity. Long story short, dehydration causes brain functioning to slow down and not function properly. It is important to think of water as a nutrient your brain needs.

  1. Dehydration Saps Your Brain’s Energy. Dehydration impedes energy production in your brain. Many of your brain’s functions require this type of energy, otherwise it can become inefficient and can even shut down. The resulting mood disorders that result from this type of dysfunction can be categorized with depression.

  2. Dehydration impedes your brain’s serotonin production.  Depression is frequently related to subpar levels of serotonin, which is a critical neurotransmitter that heavily affects your mood. Serotonin is created from the amino acid tryptophan, but sufficient water is needed. Dehydration can also negatively impact other amino acids, resulting in feelings of dejection, inadequacy, anxiety, and irritability.

  3. Dehydration increases stress in your body.  Stress is one of the most prominent contributing factors to depression, along with a sense of powerlessness and inability to cope with stressors.

Dehydration is the number one cause of stress in your body. In fact, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle: dehydration can cause stress, and stress can cause dehydration. When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands produce extra cortisol, the stress hormone, and under chronic stress, your adrenal glands can become exhausted, and resulting in lower electrolyte levels. Drinking sufficient water can help reduce the negative psychological and physiological impacts of stress, so aim for 1.5L to 2L a day.

3. Essential Fatty Acids

Growing evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids (abundant in oily fish such as sardines, salmon, and mackerel) may have a role in brain functioning, with deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids linked to mental health problems. Healthy brains and nerve cells depend on omega-3s because the nervous system is made mostly of fat. The signals that travel through our flesh so feelings, thoughts, commands to our bodies usually skip along cells and their arms sheathed in fat. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are one of the basic building blocks of the brain. ​ Brain cell membranes are about 20 percent fatty acids and they seem to be crucial for keeping brain signals moving smoothly. Doctors call this class of fat "essential" because, unlike many nutrients, our bodies cannot produce it. We can get it only from very specific parts of our diet.


4. Maintain a healthy flow of calories

Spinach and other green vegetables contain the B vitamin folate. Although the connection isn't fully understood, low folate levels have been consistently associated with depression in research. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2017, for instance, analyzed previous studies and found that people with depression had lower blood levels of folate and lower dietary intake of folate compared to those without depression. Folate deficiency may impair the metabolism of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline (neurotransmitters important for mood), but further research is needed to understand the role of folate in depression and mental health. Several studies have found that greater vegetable and fruit consumption is associated with a decreased risk of depression. One study published in 2017 found that a beverage made from wild blueberries increased positive mood in children and young adults. Consumption of a probiotic supplement was found to improve both gut symptoms and depression in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to a study published in Gastroenterology in 2017.

5. Think Positive

How to think positive thoughts:

Positive thinking can be achieved through a few different techniques that have been proven effective, such as positive self-talk and positive imagery. Here are some tips to get you started that can help you train your brain how to think positively.

"Challenging situations and obstacles are a part of life. When you’re faced with one, focus on the good things no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they seem."
  1. Practicing gratitude has been shown to reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and foster resilience even in very difficult times. Think of people, moments, or things that bring you some kind of comfort or happiness and try to express your gratitude at least once a day. This can be thanking a co-worker for helping with a project, a loved one for washing the dishes, or your dog for the unconditional love they give you.

  2. Start every day on a positive note. Create a ritual in which you start off each day with something uplifting and positive. Here are a few ideas: - Tell yourself that it’s going to be a great day or any other positive affirmation. - Listen to a happy and positive song or playlist. - Share some positivity by giving a compliment or doing something nice for someone.

  3. Focus on the good things

Challenging situations and obstacles are a part of life. When you’re faced with one, focus on the good things no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they seem. If you look for it, you can always find the proverbial silver lining in every cloud — even if it’s not immediately obvious.

SAYING: You Are The Average Of The Five People You Spend The Most Time With The people we surround ourselves with are the biggest influence on our behavior, attitudes, and results. Who you are around — what they’ve got you thinking, saying, doing, and becoming — sets the course of your life. In the words of motivational speaker Jim Rohn:

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The people you spend the most time with shape who you are. They determine what conversations dominate your attention. They affect to which attitudes and behaviors you are regularly exposed. Eventually you start to think like they think and behave like they behave.

6. Smile

The saying goes: "Life is like a mirror, smile at it and it smiles back at you"


They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile, and although there’s no hard evidence to support that, we do know that smiling comes with some real-life benefits. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, especially after a long and stressful day. But if you can take it upon yourself to crack a smile, you’ll actually feel better. Smiling can trick your brain into happiness — and boost your health. A smile spurs a powerful chemical reaction in the brain that can make you feel happier.

7. Exercise

People who exercise regularly have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who don't. Grab your yoga mat, and make yoga your new BFF and favorite mood-boosting exercise to get your mind and body centered. ​ Yoga is such an amazing form of exercise that really helps you relax and also helps stretch out those tired and sore muscles at the same time. Studies have even found that yoga may help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. So, if you’re feeling tense, get your yoga flow on. To increase the benefits, try exercising outside. Both aerobic exercise (such as walking, cycling or running) and strength training (such as weight lifting) can help treat depression. Get More Vitamin and Exercise OUTSIDE Known as the sunshine vitamin, this nutrient is made naturally in the body when skin is exposed to the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. In the past few years, research has suggested that vitamin D may increase the levels of serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters influencing our mood, and that deficiency may be linked with mood disorders, particularly seasonal affective disorder. In addition, preliminary research suggests that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for depression in older adults. Some people are at greater risk for a vitamin D deficiency. Darker skin, for instance, has more melanin, a substance that blocks ultraviolet rays. Working indoors during the day, living further from the equator, or being in an area with greater air pollution also increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency.


8. Try Aromatherapy Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. They serve many medical purposes, from acting as a natural mosquito repellent to reducing back and neck pain. However, some people use them to support lifting moods in a positive way. Try some on the market ready-made blends that are safe to use for your desired results. Please only use 100% essential oils and blends as some cheaply manufactured oils may contain alcohol which can irritate your senses more. 9. Balance Your Hormones Your hormones are little chemical messengers that tell your body to do certain processes. When they are out of balance it can have a knock-on effect on all areas of your health; physical, emotional and mental, and your mood is a very common one to be affected. Anxiety, depression, low mood, and mood swings are all symptoms of imbalances in your thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormones. Your hormones are little chemical messengers that tell your body to do certain processes. When they are out of balance it can have a knock-on effect on all areas of your health; physical, emotional, and mental, and your mood is a very common one to be affected. Anxiety, depression, low mood, and mood swings are all symptoms of imbalances in your thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormones. Eat a diet rich with real, natural whole foods. Focusing on proteins, healthy fats, fruit, and vegetables to give our bodies all the vitamins and minerals it needs to function optimally.

10. Sleep Well Getting enough sleep, and the right type of sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. While you sleep, your body works to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. And for children and young people, sleep is how their bodies and minds grow and develop. When you do not get enough sleep, you feel tired, you find it hard to concentrate and remember things and you may be grumpy. Lack of sleep can also impair your judgment and impact your physical coordination. So not getting enough sleep affects the way you feel, think, work, learn and get along with other people. This great “toolbox” will give you ideas to pull out when you’re not feeling 100%, but my ethos is “Protect & Correct” so if you start to use these methods now, chances are the mental health symptoms will improve, the length between “episodes” will be longer and the “episode” won’t be a long or severe. If you’re looking to put a wellness program together for yourself, your business/company, or a loved one, then please let me help. My details are: www.barbaracox.me barbara@bcnutrition.co.uk or connect on LinkedIn & Instagram

Barbara Cox, Guest Writer

Inspired by food and health whilst living in Japan I trained as a nutritionist and set up Nutrichef in the UK in 2004. Since then we've been creating healthy meal plans for busy people who want to lose weight, maintain a healthy lifestyle or achieve fitness goals. Nutrichef was sold in March 2015 and I set up BC Nutrition to continue consulting businesses on implementing strategies to improve productivity and consult individuals on health-related issues. My work has enabled me to contribute to books including The Motorsport Fitness Manual and Teach Yourself Aromatherapy; trek 100 miles in the Sahara Desert for Help For Heroes, speak to a wide range of audiences about their health and well-being and be involved with some fantastic organizations such as the Porsche Human Performance Centre and the Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona, Ariix in Europe and EgoStream Performance Centre in the EU. In 2015 I launched my first cookbook Rainbow Recipes and present globally on healthy eating and then In 2018 I launched my second cookbook and first e-book called Eat To Be Fit. I currently run global Corporate wellness programs that inspire, educate and motivate people to work in peak performance mode.

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