A Guide to Improving your Mental Wellness
By Emily Rider, RDN, LD
With all that the past 18 months have thrown at us, mental wellness has become an increasingly important area of focus for many. From January-September 2020 alone, the number of people who underwent anxiety and depression screenings increased by 93% and 62%, respectively1 from 2019. If you’ve been feeling increased strain in your mental health, know that you aren’t alone. Along with physical wellness, mental wellness is a significant component of your overall well-being and shouldn’t be ignored. There are several different lifestyle factors that serve as building blocks for mental wellness. Focusing on these different areas may help to improve your mental health and wellness.
It’s no secret that a balanced diet can positively impact your mood. However, incorporating nutritious foods into your lifestyle while managing a busy schedule can be an overwhelming task, especially if you’re struggling with mental health. Lack of access to healthy foods can also be an incredibly stressful situation. Consider the following tips to help you optimize your nutrition while minimizing stress:
- If affordability of food is a barrier for you, learn about available resources. Some helpful resources include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation. You can also meet with a Kroger Health Registered Dietitian to discuss healthy eating on a budget.
- Use a meal planning strategy that works best for you. Some people thrive when they prepare meals for the week ahead. However, this meal prep technique doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s OK. Maybe it’s more effective for you to keep ingredients on hand that can be combined into quick meals throughout the week. Perhaps using a meal delivery service like Home Chef would be helpful. It can take some time to figure out which meal planning strategy fits you best.
- Evaluate your relationship with food. In addition to providing nourishment for your body, food plays a large role in contributing to or reducing stress. Consider asking yourself these 6 Vital Questions for Exploring Your Eating Behaviors, or working one-on-one with a registered dietitian to take a closer look at how your relationship with food may be impacting you.
- Choose to eat foods that help you feel your best. Choosing foods based on what we think we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat can lead to increased stress and guilt. Instead, try paying attention to how you feel physically after eating. Maybe you don’t feel so well after eating a large portion of fried foods. Next time try having smaller portions or adding a fruit or vegetable and see how you feel. This strategy could help you make healthier choices without feeling restricted, and can shift you into a more positive mindset.
Physical activity also plays a role in mental wellness. Not only can exercise boost chemical messengers in your brain that regulate your mood, but it can also improve your energy levels, self-esteem, memory and sleep.2 For adults age 18-64, the CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. If you find yourself struggling with motivation to exercise, focus on finding activities that don’t feel like a chore. Think outside of the box—movement can be unconventional, like dancing, gardening or even rock climbing. If you’re truly struggling to find activities you enjoy, consider how you feel after you exercise as motivation to get moving. It’s also important to avoid overexercising, as this could have a negative impact on your health— always balance activity with rest to prevent injury and allow time for recovery.
Another key lifestyle component of mental health is sleep. While mental health conditions may impact the quality of your sleep, research indicates that sleep can also impact your mental and emotional health.3 The CDC currently recommends adults ages 18-60 get 7+ hours of sleep per night. If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, there are many strategies you can implement to help improve your sleep hygiene. Consider going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, creating a relaxing bedtime routine. Avoid blue light from electronics for at least 30 minutes before bed, and limit afternoon and evening caffeine. It may take some trial and error, but discovering which sleep strategies work best for you is worth the effort.
While making changes to the lifestyle factors above may improve your mental health, sometimes you need more support. Working with a mental health care professional can provide you with additional strategies to improve your mental wellness. Additional resources, including hotlines, can be found on the following websites: National Alliance on Mental Illness, Google Health or the National Eating Disorders Association.
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Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.