By Simon Andrew, Insight and Engagement Director
Many people invest a lot of time in looking after their physical health – eating well, doing exercise, going to the gym and so on. Yet not so many put the same effort into their mental health. So we wanted to share some things today that can help you keep on top of yours.
Pets as therapy
It’s thought that animals – or more specifically dogs – offer non-judgemental support. They have a non-discriminatory, unconditional love that has meant they are used to great effect on children with learning difficulties, in care homes and all manner of supportive roles. They’ve been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower the risk of heart disease, promote chemical release that make us feel good, improve communication and motor skills and all sorts of other benefits. They really are man’s (and woman’s) best friend.
It’s no secret that exercise is good for mental health. But do you know why? Well, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and patterns that promote feelings of calm and wellbeing. It also releases endorphins that energise you and make you feel good. It’s great for self-esteem, a good distraction and it helps counter some physical effects of mental health problems – such as poor diet and obesity.
For many of us, this probably reminds us of childhoods spent trying not to go over the lines – but it is actually an activity prescribed by many psychologists and therapists. Many people suffer from anxiety and stress and remain in a heightened state of worry. This is particularly associated with the part of the brain that deals with our fight or flight response – the amygdala. Activities like colouring focus our minds on a calming activity and actually reduce this stress response through rest and relaxation.
There is a growing body of evidence that says good nutrition is essential to our mental health. A balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be promoted by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water. There are a number of mental health problems, from depression to schizophrenia, that correlate with low levels of healthy foods (fresh fruit and vegetables, organic foods and meals made from scratch) and high levels of unhealthy goods (chips and crisps, chocolate, ready meals and takeaways). So, a healthy balanced diet is hugely important.
Massage is not just for relieving physical pain, it can also help combat symptoms of mental health issues too. One of the chemicals in the body widely responsible for stress – cortisol – has been shown to be reduced by up to 53% following a massage. It is also reported to have an impact on dopamine and serotonin levels. It increases these positive chemicals, promoting a positive wellbeing and countering the deficit often seen in anxiety and depression.
Make a positive change
We can’t all go out tomorrow and buy a dog, or spend hours in the gym. But we hope by sharing the theory behind these activities you can identify activities and habits that would work for you and can help you promote a lifestyle that is good for your mental health.
Like this article? We thought you might. You can read more from Benefex here.