Although one in five Aussies are affected by mental illness, many don’t seek help because of the stigma that surrounds the issue. So it’s more important than ever to raise awareness about mental health. Today, in recognition of World Mental Health Day, we’ve rounded up some research-backed, expert-approved and actually useful advice, to help you improve your mental health each and every day.
1. Eat eggs with smashed avocado on sprouted-grain toast for breakfast
There’s been a significant amount of research into the link between our diet and our mental health, with evidence showing that improvements in diet quality can actually help treat clinical depression. Nutritionist Melissa Brunetti, who specialises in the connection between food and mood, recently revealed the best breakfast combination for those needing a boost: eggs on grain toast with avocado. This meal contains amino acids, omega-3, fibre, vitamin D and, most importantly, fatty acids.
“Our brain is about 60% fat and we need to get our fat from a dietary source. Avocado is rich in tryptophan, which is a pre-cursor to serotonin, which is our feel-good chemical. It also has folate and Omega 3 in it.”
2. Get active, even for a few minutes
A landmark study led by the Black Dog Institute found that small amounts of exercise, regardless of intensity, can help prevent future depression. Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the largest and most extensive study of its kind found that even one hour of working out – whether it’s a gentle stroll or slogging it out at F45 – each week can improve mental health. So even making a habit of going for a walk each day will add up to have serious benefits. Adding yoga into your exercise repertoire is also a good idea – research has found it to modulate stress response systems, helping with anxiety and depression.
3. Listen to this song
A recent study out of MindLab in the UK found that the song Weightless, by Marconi Union, resulted in a whopping 65% reduction in peoples’ overall anxiety.
The song was created in collaboration with sound therapists to include particularly arranged harmonies, rhythms and bass lines to help slow the listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Lead researcher Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson said, “‘Weightless’ was so effective, many women became drowsy and I would advise against driving while listening to the song because it could be dangerous.”
4. Netflix and chill, literally
According to experts, bingeing on trashy TV can help reduce anxiety.
“When we watch television, we’re generally watching things that bring us pleasure or are interesting to us,” Richard Shuster, PsyD and host of The Daily Helping Podcast tells Greatist.
“When we engage in activities which bring us pleasure and promote enjoyment, there are numerous psychological and physiological benefits including stress reduction. Watching fun and light-hearted programs such as comedies are a good example of this.”
But keep in mind there are downsides to curbing your anxiety with telly. If you’re watching the box at night or falling asleep while viewing, it can have negative effects on your sleep cycle, which Shuster says can “result in increased emotional distress, including anxiety.”
5. Write it out
Writing about your emotions can help reduce stress or anxiety, particularly when you’ve gone through a traumatic event. A study, published in a Harvard Medical School Special Health Report on stress management, followed 46 healthy college students who were asked to write about traumatic life events or trivial topics for 15 minutes on four consecutive days per week. For six months after the experiment, the research found that students who wrote in the diaries were less likely to visit the campus health centre and also used pain relievers less frequently. A 2012 study found that writing what’s stressing you out and then physically throwing it away may help clear your mind.
6. Share a selfie with a friend
A study from the University of California, Irvine, found taking selfies and sharing photos with your friends can boost your happiness.
“Our research showed that practicing exercises that can promote happiness via smartphone picture taking and sharing can lead to increased positive feelings for those who engage in it,” said the study’s lead author Yu Chen. One of the upsides of the selfies was that some participants reported becoming more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time.
7. And then spend some quality time with them offline
T up a hang out or phone a pal for a catch up – there’s plenty of evidence that social connection is imperative to mental health and a 2011 study found that spending time with your besties can reduce stress.
8. Do something for someone else
Results of a recent study out of the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich, found a strong relationship between being generous and feeling happy. Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brain mechanisms that link this behaviour with happiness, concluding that altruistic acts activated an area of the brain associated with the reward cycle. So pay it forward by complimenting your co-worker, buying the Big Issue or donating to a worthy charity.
9. Get a good night’s sleep
Plenty of research highlights the strong relationship between sleep problems and anxiety and depression, highlighting how sleep issues impact mental health and vice versa. University of Warwick psychologists even found that improving your sleep quality can lead to levels of mental and physical wellbeing on par with those of someone who’s won a $300,000 lottery jackpot. To help you get a good night’s sleep try switching off from your devices earlier in the evening, cutting back on caffeine, establishing a regular routine, and this breathing exercise.
And if you can’t manage that, squeeze in an afternoon nap – new research has found that even a quick snooze can improve your mood.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, see a medical professional and reach out to a support hotline:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
SANE on 1800 187 263
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636