Marking Mental Health Awareness this October — 5 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

By Stephanie Sullivan

October (National Mental Health Month) is full of activities and opportunities for mental health awareness and improvement, centred around World Mental Health Day (10th), and our National Mental Health Week (9th – 16th). So, why not do something this month to focus on improving your mental health and wellbeing, or raising awareness around mental health? 

Is it a coincidence that Mental Health Week and National Nutrition Week both occur at the same time (Oct 9th – 17th). I think not! There is a close connection between your nutrition, waistline and mental health. You may have heard about the gut-brain connection, thanks to the gut-brain axis. As WebMD explains, “The benefits of eating healthy foods extend beyond your waistline to your mental health. A healthy diet can lessen the effects of stress, build up your immune system, level your mood, and lower your blood pressure. Lots of added sugar and fat can have the opposite effect.”1 

We also know that there is a close connection between stress, sleep, and your waistline. As WedMD explains, “A common side effect of stress is that you may struggle to fall asleep…Lack of sleep can also add to your stress level and cause a cycle of stress and sleeplessness.” 1 

And your waistline? Well, according to a study published in Biological Psychiatry, stress can cause significant weight gain. The researchers discovered that constant stress resulted in “obesity related metabolic responses”, causing weight gain, and that chronic stressors could potentially add “almost 11 pounds [five kgs] per year”. According to weight loss and lifestyle physician Dr Charlie Seltzer, not only can stress cause weight gain but it can cause weight gain “in the most dangerous area of the body”. 2 

A healthy diet can lessen the effects of stress, build up your immune system, level your mood, and lower your blood pressure. Lots of added sugar and fat can have the opposite effect.

Knowledge is power, right? Wrong! Action (backed by knowledge) is power. Here are some ideas and opportunities to focus on uplifting your mental health, and in some cases contributing to the mental health of others as well.   

5 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health: 

  1. Set aside some time each day to focus on self-care. Even 5 minutes, for example dedicated to a mindfulness, meditation, quiet/still, or movement practice is beneficial. To set yourself up for success, choose a realistic amount of time to allocate (5, 10, 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes), book it in your daily schedule, and set a calendar or phone reminder. If you have limited time and are unsure of what you can do, here is a list of 13 self-care activities you can do in ten minutes or less:  Self-Care Habits For Busy People (healthcoachinstitute.com). If you want to take your self-care and mental health commitment to the next level this month (October), or want added accountability, you could sign-up for “Make a Move for Mental Health” to track your daily commitment and progress, and to help raise funds for ReachOut Australia, supporting youth with mental health and suicide prevention, the leading cause of death of Australian youth. Or, if you would like to have some structure and ideas but prefer to “go it on your own”, here is a ready-made 30-day schedule of simple self-care activities:  30-days-of-self-care.pdf (healthcoachinstitute.com)
  1. Eat healthier to support your mental health and mood. Only 7.5% of Australian adults currently eat the recommended 5 serves of vegetables per day.3 Feed your gut more fibre from vegetables, fruit, and nuts to benefit your waistline and your mind.1 The Good Mood Food website provides more detailed advice on the correlation between specific foods to help with various moods. You could also create a personal or team challenge to “Try for 5” serves of veg per day for a week, as part of the National Nutrition Week and its “Try for 5” campaign. There is no sign-up involved here. Instead their website (Tryfor5) offers some useful information for motivation and support such as the explanation of one serve, as well as a diagram showing the recommended servings of veg and fruit by age group, recipes to promote increased vegetable consumption, tips for kids to each more veg, a free kids’ cookbook, and ways to avoid food wastage to help your wallet and the environment. 
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