This post is probably more accurately titled “Mental Health for Women” but I liked the alliteration of “Mental Health for Mums”! While men get depressed too, and we don’t want to gloss over that fact, women are almost twice as likely to suffer major depression. Depression is a serious illness, and involves prolonged feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and lethargy.
Anxiety is also twice as common in women, and although related to depression, it is not the same thing. Anxiety is also a serious mental illness, and involves illogical or unexplainable fears or worry about future events.
Also encompassed in these two illnesses is depletion, post traumatic stress, body dysmorphia, etc. All of these illnesses can be triggered by hormone fluctuations (think PMS, post natal depression, and menopause related depression), but the exact mechanism behind these triggers is unclear.
If you think that you may be suffering either of these illnesses, you can complete the Anxiety and depression checklist on Beyond Blue to find out: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety-and-depression-checklist-k10
If you’re flagged as depressed or anxious, make an appointment with your GP and ask for a Mental Health Plan.
Today we are going to discuss how to keep your brains healthy, preventing depression and anxiety, and improving the severity of these illnesses if you already have them.
Movement (references in bold)
While it is obvious that your feelings can influence your movement, think about when you feel tired and sad, you may move more slowly. When you feel anxious or stressed, you may either rush around or become completely paralyzed. However the connection between your brain and your body is a “two-way street” and that means movement can change your brain, too!
- Regular aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety by making your brain’s “fight or flight” system less reactive. When anxious people are exposed to physiological changes they fear, such as a rapid heartbeat, through regular aerobic exercise they become desensitised to that change. Aerobic exercise is 60-80%MHR
- Regular exercise, whether it’s aerobic, resistance, flexibility, or balance based exercise can also reduce depression symptoms. In fact, it can be as effective as medication and psychotherapies.
- Meditative movement, such a yoga and tai chi, has been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms. This is a type of movement in which you pay close attention to your bodily sensations, position in space, and gut feelings (such as subtle changes in heart rate or breathing) as you move. Frequent yoga practice can reduce the severity of symptoms in post-traumatic stress disorder to the point that some people no longer meet the criteria for this diagnosis. Changing your posture, breathing, and rhythm can all change your brain, thereby reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, and leading to a feeling of well-being.
- Sedentary behaviour alone can increase risk for depression and anxiety, and both moderate and vigorous activity can reduce mental health risks. Further research is needed to clarify the role of light activity.
Speaking of two-way streets – If hormones trigger your anxiety or depression, movement can impact your hormones. Exercise has an effect on balancing (or disrupting), suppressing, and boosting certain hormones. You can use different kinds of exercise for different purposes. If I was to over-simply it, your movement should consist primarily of the opposite of what your lifestyle, or mental health disorder consists of. For example, a highly stressed person does need exercise to help their anxiety, but vigorous exercise will boost her stress hormones; she needs to balance her stressful lifestyle with calming movement (usually what they don’t want to hear!).
The opposite is true for someone stuck in bed with depression, starting with getting out of bed, to low impact movement, to moderate, regular movement. Any movement will trigger serotonin release, which promotes a good night’s rest. Increasing your serotonin levels can boost mood, appetite, digestion, memory, and sexual drive – the opposite of depression.
For women specifically, sweating helps excrete excess Oestrogen, which can help if they’re experiencing excess Oestrogen induced PMS or cycle-triggered depression (a naturopath or fertility expert can help with a diagnosis, you can book online here: https://www.drlindsaymartens.com/)
Both physical exercise and meditative movement are activities that you can do by yourself. On their own, they can improve the way you feel. However you can get even better results to mood and self esteem, when you try to move in synchrony with someone else. This works even when you’re interacting with another person via a video link, and it’s probably why dance movement therapy can help depressed patients feel better.
Having an active social life as additional health benefits, including:
- You may live longer.
- You will likely enjoy better physical health, with a stronger immune system.
- You may even lower your risk of dementia, as people with active social lives are less likely to develop dementia than those who are more socially isolated.
So for optimal mental health, we could combine your movement with socialising or synchronising – EASY to synchronise using the power plate app!
Social exercise opportunities include:
- Aerobics classes
- Yoga classes
- Walking groups
- Tai Chi groups
- Personal Training
- Dance classes
- Or just simply catching up with friend during a walk instead of over coffee (or have coffee afterwards!)
Your food affects your mood.
If you want to feel good, then eating a feel good diet is important!
The risk of depression increases about 80% when you’re eating a “western” diet, compared to those who eat a higher-quality, whole-foods diet. The risk of attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is double…
There are several ways this works;
- You need adequate calories, vitamins, minerals, micro and macro-nutrients: any deficiency is likely to negatively affect your mood.
- Adequate nutrition is imperative for your brain development and regeneration, if your brains isn’t functioning optimally, neither is your mood.
- Whole foods fill the gut with healthy bacteria, which has a direct impact on mood and well-being generally (every heard of a “gut feeling”?). Some gut bacteria are vital for creating nutrients that power the brain, like vitamin B, while others will decrease inflammation.
So, what are good mood foods?
- Firstly, work with a naturopath to find the right combination of these, don’t go buying supplements today…
- Secondly, you can start increasing the whole food sources of these nutrients today. As long as you’re getting VARIETY, from whole food sources, it’s impossible to over consume a nutrient the same way as you could taking a supplement (unless you eat seven punnets of blueberries, or 18 apples, but that’s not variety is it!!)
- Thirdly, a simple blood test from your GP will help determine if you’re deficient any of the major nutrients.
- B vitamins. People with low B12 levels have more brain inflammation and higher rates of depression and dementia. Falling short on folate has long been linked to low moods.
- Iron. Too little iron in the blood (iron-deficiency anemia) has been linked to depression.
- Omega-3s. These healthy fatty acids improve thinking and memory and, possibly, mood.
- Zinc. This nutrient helps control the body’s response to stress. Low levels can cause depression. A great source is oysters, which pack 500% of your daily need of zinc but have just 10 calories apiece,
Dark chocolate has antioxidants, which increase blood flow to the brain, aiding mood and memory.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to improve overall mood and general feelings of happiness, and also provide a steady source of brain fuel. The fibre in these foods also provide food for the beneficial bacteria in our guts.
The protein in lean meats, fish and eggs provide building blocks of many brain chemicals that can influence our mood. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel provide omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium and other brain boosters. Nuts, seeds and legumes are also a good source of those healthy fats and vitamins that support positive mental health and are known to protect against dementia and depression.
The Mediterranean diet—which focuses on whole foods and lean proteins and cuts out processed foods and sugars—is associated with higher levels of cognitive function later in life.
Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, prevents dehydration – a common cause of headaches, tiredness, and ‘brain fog’ that can affect our ability to concentrate.
There’s no super-food for mental well-being. It’s about balance, variety, and eating from the five food groups. This means if you are vegan, or have another dietary choice or intolerance that excludes a whole food group, you may have to work harder at achieving variety.
For women, it’s about getting these food IN, not restrictive diets. So start a diary and have a look at where you can throw in an extra snack – whole food – and have them in your fridge at eye-level ready to go!
I know you’re all going to roll your eyes at me, but bear with me for the next 5 minutes and I think you’ll start paying more attention to it!
Lack of sleep will not only leave you feeling irritated and exhausted, it can exacerbate depression and anxiety. It can also contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and has a causal role in the development of some mental health conditions… in other words, it lack of adequate sleep can not only inflame existing health concerns – it can cause them too.
Women generally have more trouble sleeping, are more prone to insomnia, and also prioritise sleep less.
In addition, each metamorphosis that a woman goes through can disrupt sleep, particularly during pregnancy and once they have children.
Your menstrual cycle will affect your sleep patterns too, with your luteal phase (that’s higher in progesterone) generally being less disrupted than your follicular phase.
Your eating habits will affect your sleep patterns, because of the way insulin reacts to blood sugar, and the reverse is also true, where disrupted sleep will raise your blood sugar and encourage unhealthy habits, which can then keep you awake at night, and so on…
Cortisol, commonly known as your stress hormone, is responsible for waking you in the mornings. Melatonin, your sleep hormone helps you fall and stay asleep. However, stress is characterised by raised cortisol levels, which can disrupt this process, and so on…
If you’ve been exercising with people, and eating better these past few weeks, you should find that your sleep has also improved. For thriving mental health, here are some other things you can do to boost your sleep habits (in addition to moving, eating well, and connecting with people):
- VIBRATE: Whole body vibration was shown to be an important intervention in the management of factors that were associated with poor quality of sleep in patients with metabolic syndrome. It also improved respiratory function for people suffering sleep apnea, and decreased symptoms for people suffering interrupted sleep due to Restless Leg Syndrome.
- Stick to a schedule, including calming activities such as baths, reading, and meditation, set sleep time and set wake up time.
- Only sleep in your bedroom, leave devices and entertainment in the living room!
- Stay cool, your body temperature drops by 1 degree when you sleep, help it drop with a cool bedroom.
- Address stress, both because of it’s impact on your mind, on your hormones, and on your eating habits, stress has got to go. Seek help from a GP, counseller, or psychiatrist if you’re unsuccessful using common stress-relief methods like movement and meditation.
- Brain Training, simple techniques like a gratitude journal can help change the way your brain is wired for the better!
Thriving mental health incorporates all these factors and more. Start by incorporating just one (i’d highly recommend VIBRATING – as it ticks many boxes all at once!), and build on it from there!