by Bonnie Brock, NMD, RD, LDN, MPH
Prioritizing self-care is one of the most important things you can do to bolster and protect your physical, mental, and emotional health. What you do in terms of diet, stress management, exercise, and supplemental nutrition can not only keep you in a physical and mental “good place”, but it can be a pivotal part of a plan to get you feeling better when you are struggling. Here are 4 areas you can focus upon today to enhance your mood and well-being.
I would argue that eating, digesting, and absorbing food is the most intimate act each of us undergoes each day. It’s the process of taking in something that is other than you and making it a part of your very being. Choosing foods that support your mental well-being and eating them in a manner that nourishes and respects your soul is essential. Choose a diet balanced in carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and rich in whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It’s best to limit excess sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and food additives/colorants/preservatives when you can. Try to eat in a mindful manner and in a relaxed environment; meaning try to set a beautiful table, take time with each bite and feel gratitude for the food you are about to enjoy.
The positive effect of regular exercise on mood is well-documented, likely due to improved circulation, reduced stress, enhanced libido, and improved sleep. The brain just functions better when a strong and well-conditioned heart regularly delivers oxygen and nutrients its way. While it seems the best fitness regimen involves a combination of high-intensity cardio interspersed with sessions of strength training, it is more important to find an activity you love that you will partake in regularly. Take a meditative hike in nature or socialize with a pickleball group or restore yourself with yoga; whatever calls to you. If you are interested in building a formal fitness plan, a certified personal trainer who understands mental health can help create a regimen that is right for you.
The “toxic load” on your body can greatly impact your mental and physical health. “Toxic load” is determined by multiple factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, chemical exposure, etc. Environmental toxins can be present in drinking water, beauty, hygiene, and cleaning products and on containers and packaging. According to environmental experts, avoid the toxins that come through your water supply by using a water purifier. Choosing natural beauty and cleaning supplies can help reduce exposure risk. To avoid environmental hormone disruptors like BPA, you should avoid keeping or heating food in flexible plastic containers and look for BPA-free cans and bottles. Every little bit you do to reduce your exposure can help contribute to overall well-being.
If you could only choose one lifestyle factor to enhance mood, stress reduction with a multi-layered plan is a great choice. During prolonged stress, the brain senses that things are not quite in balance, and signals both the endocrine and immune systems to upregulate stress hormones and defense mechanisms. This heightened state can initially lead to anxiety and sensory overload and eventually develop into chronic depression. There are many tools to combat stress, including yoga, massage, behavioral health therapy, acupuncture, natural supplements, and hobbies, such as art or dance. Sitting down with your partner, therapist, support team, etc. and making a stress-reduction plan before burnout and long-term dysfunction sets in is crucial to optimal health.