As we count down to World Mental Health Day tomorrow, how’s your headspace?
With family overseas and my daughter in lockdown in Melbourne, like everyone through this pandemic, I’m missing many of those I love. And also aware I must keep my mental health buoyant by taking time to do things that feed my soul.
It’s so easy to put our to-do lists before our mental health isn’t it? I’ve been the biggest slack-arse with mine lately, as stresses through this difficult year seem to push my personal needs to the bottom of that list.
I also have a son studying for his final exams for Year 12 right now, and know he needs the right food, love and support to cope with it all. What a difficult time to be young!
It’s great that his Father is an excellent cook and able to nurture him through this. I’ve been working all hours to get a book on perimenopause finished, which I couldn’t have done if my ex-husband hadn’t stepped in.
I’m there for the love stuff, leaving the nutrition and day to day to his Dad.
“It’s been a tough year, and we feel for the thousands of young Australians who will soon be sitting their final exams,” said Simone Austin, Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Senior Dietetic Advisor at Dietitians Australia.
With Australians aged between 15-24 years most likely to experience a mental or behavioural condition1, building healthy food habits from a young age is vital. Like most parents, I’ve been guilty of the convenience of fast food on the days where work ran late and there was nothing in the fridge. And like most parents, I’ve also tried to offer healthy food choices wherever possible.
“There are many ways foods affect how we feel and there is growing evidence to support the impact that nutrients, food and dietary patterns, like a Mediterranean style of eating, has on mental health. Choosing nourishing food and drinks can keep us feeling energised, alert and sustained; useful for long exams and hours of study,” said Simone.
Simone says that eating wholefoods like fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, legumes, lean meats, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy means we’re more likely to get a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. These impact our gut and brain health, which in turn positively influence our mental health.
Gaining adequate sleep is vital for mental health, more than people think, so get some early nights and practice good sleep hygiene.
With 50-80% of our body comprising water2, staying hydrated is important to keep functioning at your best. I don’t know about you but I have to make a real effort to drink more water. I try to fill a glass each time I’m in a kitchen, at work or home.
“Much like elite athletes, preparing for an exam is like preparing for game day. Staying hydrated and getting enough sleep is vital to help both players and students alike, perform at their best,” says Simone.
The benefits of good food (and a good mood) extend far beyond boosting your brain health for final marks or focus at work. We all need to take care to feed our mental health.
When it comes to actually being mentally healthy, we can all be a bit slack on the follow-through. There’s plenty of self-care strategies out there, but we don’t all have the time or money to spend on a yoga retreats or counsellors. So what can we do that doesn’t cost money?
- Limit the alcohol. Try not to make it the first thing you do on arriving home. Pop the kettle on then get undressed and take a hot shower.
- Drink water. I know, we already mentioned that. Or at least make sure you match every alcoholic or caffeinated drink with a glass of free pure hydrating water.
- Do something else besides watching Netflix before bed. Switch off the tv and try reading a book, taking a bath, doing a short guided meditation.
- Give yourself a mental health day now and again. This is golden. Don’t use it for catching up on housework, unless that meditative and makes you feel good. Go for a walk, have coffee with a friend or do something that relaxes you.
- Connect with others. We can’t do it alone. Take time to make a call and ask how someone else is doing. It can help to get out of our own drama for a while. Hug someone you love.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020). Mental Health. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/mental-health
- National Health and Medical Research Council (2014). Nutrient Reference values: Water. Available from: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/water