DIET, exercise and sleep are essential factors in improving mental health and wellbeing, a Horsham health professional says.
Des Lardner's Organic naturopath Emily Grieger said there were many simple ways people could improve their mental health and wellbeing through self-care and lifestyle changes.
Naturopathy is a holistic approach to wellness looking at using herbal medicines, diet and nutrition, and lifestyle changes to improve a person's overall health and wellbeing.
"The first thing we look at is whether a person is getting enough nutrition in your diet, whether they're exercising and getting enough sleep," Mrs Grieger said.
"The initial step is for someone to recognise that they've started dealing with stress in a different way. That could also be seeing a problem in someone else and encouraging them to seek help."
She said getting enough sunlight, being active, improving sleep quality, eating regularly and drinking water were all simple ways to improve overall wellbeing.
"It comes down to the basics. If you're getting those essential things regulated, then you're on a much better path in helping your own mental health," she said.
"Of course people do need more help than that, but those foundation things are essential. From there if people need extra support - medication or counselling for instance - we make sure they are getting that help from the right place."
Diet and nutrition
IMPROVING diet is one of the easiest changes people can make to improve their mental health and wellbeing, Mrs Grieger said.
However, she said it was common for people to stick to diets they're used to.
"Often when we need to look after ourselves the most, we're actually looking after ourselves the least," she said.
"There is a range of nutrients that your brain requires to produce the right chemicals. Often if your gut health isn't right, then things aren't working well with that gut-brain connection.
"We can do better by just tweaking little things in our diet. First of all, making sure you're eating regularly and not skipping meals, and not eating processed foods."
She said sugary and processed foods provided no nutrients to help support brain function.
"The brain has a way of tricking you into getting a quick-fix boost of energy, so that would be craving those sugary foods. But you're not putting much into your body aside from a quick-fix energy that's not going anywhere," she said.
"Some people are able to transition away from sugary foods easily, while others might need to make subtle changes overtime. It depends on people's budgets and resources, but we encourage people to choose 'real foods' whenever possible, including fruit and vegetables.
"Drinking water and keeping your brain hydrated is so important. Even a three per cent drop in water levels in the brain can increase the chances of depression and anxiety."
REGULAR exercise can be an effective way to treat mild to moderate depression, Beyond Blue research shows.
"There is definitely proven evidence that exercise acts as an antidepressant. So if people are able to implement that change into their lifestyle, it can certainly help in the long-term," Mrs Grieger said.
"It doesn't have to be flat out kind of exercise or something that's uncomfortable, it's just about getting people to do something and move everyday."
She said it was important for people to exercise daily - especially if they had inside and sedentary jobs.
"Our current situation with society is that we have sedentary jobs. So getting up, taking breaks and going outside does set up much better processes in your body, including forming your own Vitamin D," she said.
"At different stages people may find it difficult to get out and implement those changes consistently, but at least if they know there is evidence that it helps, change can happen over time."
STUDIES have shown there is a scientific link between poor sleep patterns and increased risks of depression.
A 2018 VicHealth study exploring the links between sleep and mental wellbeing found that poor sleep was linked to poor present and future mental health across all age groups.
This included an increased risk of depression due to poor sleep patterns.
"You can't talk about stress without talking about sleep - they are so linked," Mrs Grieger said.
"Humans are designed to rest at dark hours and be alert in the day. Overtime that changes because we might be attuned to artificial lights, we have screens on all the time, so sometimes we get out of rhythm with what should be happening."
She said there was a direct link between how a person's stress hormones should be and how much sleep they get.
"You get a flow of cortisol when you wake up which is a stress hormone that helps you stay alert. Then over the day that should drop off. When that's lower, your melatonin levels rise which makes you feel tired," she said.
"But if your cortisol hormones are up all the time and not dropping when they should, it means you won't get a good quality sleep and you're more wired up. We try to find ways to intervene with that and fix the cycle so there's more regularity to sleep patterns, therefore a better ability to adapt to stresses."
She said there were a number of ways people could improve their sleep patterns.
"Sleep comes in cycles, so sometimes people miss that first window of opportunity at night that they could have fallen into a nice sleep," she said.
"What we do with babies' bodies to give them the signal it's nighttime is give them a wind down routine. Adults can adopt that, too. So that could be having a bath or shower before bed, dimming the lights, doing a quiet activity and unplugging from your devices. Repetition is the key to creating a new routine for sleep patterns."
- If you, or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Help on 1800 55 1800 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Two-in-three regional Australians affected by suicide, data shows
- Groups, volunteers provide mental health support through advocacy
- Mental health advocate Lauren Dempsey encourages others to reach out
- Ballarat Health Services advocates for mental health beds in Horsham
- Mental health counselling wait times up to 12 weeks
- Advocates encourage men to talk about mental health
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