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5 Reasons For Declining Mental Health And What You Can Do About It

Written by: Marina Gross, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

In many ways, we live in a world that puts us far better off than ever before. Endless possibilities, modern medicine, and advanced technology all enhance our quality of life and provide opportunities for growth. Yet, our mental health is rapidly declining and continuously so. More and more people around the world experience anxiety and burnout and the World Health Organization have proclaimed stress to be the 21st century’s health epidemics. “Why is it so?” you may ask. Or perhaps: “What can we do about it?”

woman sitting alone on bed in room and looking through window at night

This increasing global health issue did not occur all by itself. In fact, it is a byproduct of our modern lifestyle. And while there are multiple reasons for this paradox, let’s explore 5 core causes and simple solutions based on time-proved healthy habits that each of us can easily incorporate into our daily routines.


1. High Paced Lifestyle


Nowadays, we live in a very fast-moving society that acknowledges and praises constant growth and performance. We are always on the go, paving our way through pages of long to-do lists, running errands, working (late) and always doing something. Not to mention all the emails, notifications, phone calls, meetings, traffic, reminders and deadlines that come with it. Living in our modern world, we are encouraged to speed up, rarely being acknowledged for slowing down.


And while this has become our new normal, the fact is we and our brains are not originally built for this which is one of the reasons why our mental health has embarked on a negative downward spiral of continuous decline.


Our brain is a very complex organ, but to simplify it a little bit, it is made of two parts: the reptilian brain and prefrontal cortex.


If we dive deeper into our reptilian brain, the oldest part of our brain evolutionary speaking, we will find the limbic system: a group of interconnected structures located deep within the brain responsible for behavioral and emotional responses. Within the limbic system there is amygdala: part of our brain that constantly scans our surroundings for danger. When a stress trigger (real or imagined) appears on its radar, this ancient part of the brain sends stress and alarm signals to the body, alerting it of danger and instantly mobilizing it through the release of the stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol.


This was a very smart brain feature back in the day when we were living on the savannah, early in our evolution, as we had to be constantly alert in order to survive. However, this is where it becomes a bit tricky: our brain has not evolved much in many hundreds of thousands of years, compared to how much the world we live in has evolved over time. It means that though we do not have tigers or hunters threatening our survival, our amygdala is still scanning our surroundings for danger, nowadays constantly triggered by traffic noise, news, deadlines at work, emails, notifications, people, social media... and the list goes on.


What can we do about it?


Small actions of self-care can go a long way in helping us navigate the high pace of modern lifestyle and staying ambitious while taking care of our mental health.


Prioritizing small breaks at work, taking deep breaths, focusing on one task at a time and intentionally carving out some time to just rest and relax without further distractions are all easy and accessible tools that have a major impact on our mental health and well-being, giving our body and mind time to refocus and recover.


2. Imbalance of the Nervous Systems


This leads to the next reason why our mental health is continuously declining. Many of us struggle with an imbalance of the nervous systems. To understand this imbalance and what we can do about it, let’s have a look at how our nervous system works.


Our nervous system is made of two main parts: the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system.


When the brain senses something stressful, it is like a switch is clicked. The nerves send the whole system into overdrive, triggering a flood of stress hormones into the blood streams. Our breathing speeds up, our heart starts racing, the body feels wired. These are the signs of an activated sympathetic nervous system responsible for alerting the body of stress and activating our in-built tool to keep us safe: the stress response also called the “fight or flight” response.


On the other hand, our parasympathetic nervous system responsible for resting, restoring and healing, naturally takes over, when the stress circuit eventually switches off or when we intentionally prioritize activating this part of our nervous system through soothing, relaxing and grounding self-care practices.


The mental health challenge today, however, is that for many of us most of the daily activities happen in our sympathetic nervous system (stress response) with little activity in our parasympathetic nervous system (healing and rest). This results in high amounts of adrenaline and cortisol flooding in our blood for long periods of time leading to various long-term health issues, both regarding mental and physical health.


What can we do about it?


Nowadays, our brain rarely gets a break, if we do not make a conscious effort to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. The good news is there are science-backed practices to help us balancing our nervous system and thereby regain balance in our body and mind: mindful breathing, meditation, regular gratitude practice, time in nature and, not the least, good quality sleep every night.


3. Lack of Sleep


Let’s talk about sleep. There is not one cell in our entire body and mind that does not benefit from good quality sleep. However, we are the only species on the Earth that purposefully deprioritize sleep without an actual need. In fact, according to statistics, approximately 2/3 of the population in the industrialized countries sleeps too little, which unfortunately leads to development of mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety and burnout.


Disruptive, poor quality sleep has become a widespread health issue that has a huge negative effect on our mental and physical health and ultimately on our quality of life. When we do not sleep enough or sleep well, it is almost as if the next day becomes foggier, energy leaves the body faster, we have troubles with concentrating, we experience mood swings, and our hands reach out for that sugary snack or another cup of coffee more often to give us the much-needed energy boost. Do you recognize yourself in any of this?


On the other hand, when we do get good quality sleep throughout the night, we get to enjoy numerous benefits of it for our mental and physical health and well-being. All because when we sleep, vital processes occur in our body and mind, affecting both our mental and physical health and well-being: our mind cleanses itself, our parasympathetic nervous system heals and restores our body and mind, our body balances our hormones and, ultimately, our body and mind restore and heal.


What can we do about it?


Sleep may be one of the most underrated self-care rituals for better mental health nowadays. Not the least, it is one of the most beneficial and essential ways to support our mental health and well-being every day. Avoiding sharp blue light from electronic devices before sleep, aiming for consistent bedtimes and establishing a relaxing evening routine to help our body and mind relax and unwind can positively improve the quality of our sleep as well as our overall health and well-being.


4. Nutrients Deficiency


As cliché as it may sound, it is true: we are what we eat. In fact, the food we eat provides necessary nutrition and fuel to every cell in our body and mind. It nourishes us from within providing necessary macronutrients and vital micronutrients to uphold different bodily processes and functions. For instance, as of the immune system, digestion, brain, hormones, nervous system, heart and other organs and bodily functions.


Living in a world of convenience and high pace many of us are deficient in vital nutrients, due to poor diet high on sugar, caffeine and processed food. And as our nutrition is the fuel for every cell in our body this leads not only to declining physical, but also mental health.


In fact, there are many ways our food choices affect our brain and mental health. For instance, by impacting our energy levels, blood sugar, hormonal balance and general nutrient sufficiency to support the needs of our brain and nervous system.


And one of the ways our food choices impact our mental well-being is the fact that our gastrointestinal system — commonly referred to as “the gut” — is actually very closely connected to the brain. As human beings we are home to trillions of different bacteria, a lot of which reside in our gut and have many functions in the body, such as synthesizing neurotransmitters that send chemical messages to the brain to regulate sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and emotions.


In fact, there is such an intricate network of interactions between the two that the gut has been nicknamed the “second brain.” Formally, however, the relationship between these two is called the gut-brain-connection or gut-brain axis.


What can we do about it?


While there is no one-size-fits-all perfect diet, as we are all different, there are certain foods that truly nourish and fuel our bodies, while others simply do not. And when it comes to optimizing everyday nutrition, there is one simple rule of thumb that comes in handy that everyone can benefit from: less of the unnatural and more of the natural. It means simplicity at its best: less processed foods, alcohol, refined sugar and caffeine, and more of fruits, greens, veggies, healthy fats, whole grains and good quality protein sources – as nature intended.


5. Mismatch of Everyday Inputs


All above mentioned causes lead to this final one for continuously declining mental health. In many ways we experience a mismatch between natural and unnatural inputs in our everyday lives. And the scales are currently tipping in favor of the unnatural inputs, which results in declining mental and physical health.


As humans we are built for movement, connection with nature, natural whole foods. We are built for joy and connection with one another. We are built for good quality sleep, moderate pace of life and living in tune with our biological needs.


Instead many of us lead a lifestyle of sleep deprivation, little to lack of movement, poor food choices, (over) consumption of technology, high every day pace, little contact with nature and little connection with ourselves and each other.


We have never had so many opportunities to thrive as we have available in today’s world. Yet, there is a mismatch of our daily inputs in regard to our fundamental and non-negotiable biological needs, not only for proper physical, but not the least, mental health and well-being.


What can we do about it?


Going back to wellness basics and incorporating habits and rituals that relax and nurture our nervous system, as well as inviting more natural inputs, will positively aid our mental health and well-being. Daily movement, nutritious foods and proper hydration, good quality sleep, mindfulness and intentional rest, time outdoors, gratitude and positive mindset, breaks and deep breaths, joy and connection – let’s practice getting more in tune with our natural and simple, biological needs.


Sounds Too Good to Be True?


Health does not have to be complicated, although we have been, perhaps unintentionally, trying to make it so for years and years. In fact, all health is about is taking small right actions every day that combined over the time will lead to results. Simple actions of self-care and going back to basic, time-proved and science-backed habits is all it takes.


Allow me to introduce HEAL: an online holistic health coaching program, designed and purposed to help you cope with stress, nourish your body and mind, and create a better and stronger relationship with yourself in 3 exciting months.


This hybrid model of self-paced learning and 1:1 health coaching is the perfect combination of learning, sustainably creating new habits and getting the necessary support from your health coach along the way, exploring the topics of:

  • Biology of stress,

  • Positive mindset and self-love

  • Nutrition

  • Feel good movement

  • Outer environment

  • Self-care

Discover a 12 weeks step-by-step program and empower yourself with tools you need to thrive through:

  • 6 bite-size, to-the-point modules

  • 6 bi-weekly 1:1 health coaching sessions

  • 80+ pages workbook, tools, exercises and journaling prompts

  • 24/7 access to the course content during and after the program available from anywhere in the world

And most importantly, experience one ultimate health transformation and create one better and stronger relationship with yourself and your health.


For more inspiration, please follow Inspired Change Co on Instagram, explore the growing collection of articles on Inspired Change Co website or sign up to the monthly newsletter with holistic advice on all things mental health and wellbeing delivered straight to your inbox.


Follow me on Instagram, and visit my website for more info!


 

Marina Gross, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Marina Gross is a Holistic Health Coach and mental health advocate, who specializes in stress management and holistic well-being. In a world, where mental health is continuously declining and many experience stress, anxiety and burnout, it is Marina's passion and mission to make mindful health accessible and attainable for all. She is the founder of Inspired Change Co, the online holistic wellness and health coaching platform, and her work is purposed to inspire, educate and empower readers and clients to make their health a daily priority and cultivate a nourishing life that feels good inside and out.

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