Pathways to Wellness

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Mental health and “Lifestyle”

Can everyday acts and lifestyle factors play a role in treating or managing mental health problems, like anxiety and depression?  This is an important question because every year about 1 in 5 Canadians will be diagnosed with a mental health problem;  and twice that number, or about 40 percent of us, will experience a mental health problem sometime in our life.

It turns out that the answer to the question is yes, lifestyle changes can help treat or manage a mental health problem. 

And, what’s good for mental health is very similar to what’s good for a healthy brain.  Learn about seven secrets to a happy brain.

The following video is generously provided by Oh Boy Productions and the Brain Research Centre at UBC.

Empowered Health-the Brain Part 5 from OhBoyProductions on Vimeo.

Regular exercise has a positive impact on physical and emotional well-being, and is as effective as counselling or anti-depressant medication in treating mild to moderate depression. Exercise also improves cognitive functioning (for example, memory and problem solving) in older adults.

A diet that is good for the body is also good for the mind. Eating well – not too much, mostly vegetables, and some fish– has similar positive effects on mental well-being. Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, nuts, many oils, dark green leafy vegetables, and soy products, are particularly good. You can also take Omega 3 supplements which go down much easier than the regular spoon of cod liver oil used by your grandmothers.

Spending time in nature heals, calms, and gives us a break from the constant flood of information through iPhones, iPads, and Blackberries. Nature can act as a buffer against the stresses of modern living.

Good relationships promote happiness, quality of life, resilience, and cognitive functioning. Relationships are also a source of support, practical assistance, and fun. Hanging out with people who are positive, active and live healthy lives will rub off on you and vice versa.

Recreation and enjoyable activities – spending time doing things which are fun and give rise to other positive emotions - is good for mental and physical health, reduces distress, and helps manage stress. And if you have fun in the company of other people you get the additional benefits of relationships.

Relaxation and stress management which can take many forms – from yoga and meditation to progressive muscle relaxation and other self-management strategies – has all round benefits on mood and thinking.

Spiritual or religious practices can benefit psychological health, improve relationships, and reduce common mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

Contributing to your community through community service and volunteer work is another great way of promoting overall well-being, including emotional wellness. Community service does double-time: it’s good for your well-being and it’s good for others!

Don’t forget about the value of a good night’s sleep on how we feel, think, and perform.

These are important ways of taking care of yourself, whether or not you have a mental health problem. They won’t solve all problems – consider talking with your doctor, community health nurse, or counselor about how these lifestyle changes might complement other ways of improving your mental health.

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