Ever wondered, what’s really the connection between lifestyle choices and mental health? Or, are you always asking, how do lifestyle choices affect mental health?
If so, then you’re in the right place. In this article we will take an in-depth look at the condition of mental health – what mental health is, its causes and some statistics. And then, I will share with you five lifestyle choices that will enhance your mental health.
You see, over the last few years, the impact of lifestyle on mental health has been a subject of great interest. As more and more studies are being done it is increasingly been acknowledged that a healthy lifestyle plays an important role in one’s mental health. This means choosing a healthy lifestyle can greatly help in preventing mental disorders.
But despite this, it is still a common experience that when a person is suffering from a mental health illness, like depression or anxiety, the first-line treatments are usually mental therapies and medicines. Not much is talked about the different lifestyle choices that affect our mental health. This is, according to Psychology Today,
“A lamentable oversight because lifestyle changes—things as simple as nutrition and exercise—can have a significant impact on quality of life, for any of us, but especially for those dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. They can also help minimize the development of risk factors that can lead to conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, all of which are seen at higher rates in those with mental illness, the study noted.”
Let us now explore how lifestyle choices and mental health are connected so we can better deploy this knowledge to improving our mental health.
What Is Mental Health?
Let’s begin with the question, how do you define mental health?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
“Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.”
From the above definition, mental health affects our daily living, our relationships, and our physical health. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also affects how we relate to others and how we handle stress.
This is a serious issue because people who experience mental health problems over the course of their lives, could have their thinking, mood, and behavior affected negatively.
What Causes Mental Health Problems?
From the various studies done on the subject of mental health it is generally accepted that there is no single factor responsible for mental health problems. Instead there are a variety of factors; also called risk factors.
Some of these factors include but not limited to:
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Negative thoughts
- Childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect
- Bereavement (e.g. the loss of a loved one)
- Unemployment or losing your job
- Domestic violence, bullying or other abuse as an adult
- Having a long-term physical health condition
- Living in a stressful environment
Mental Health Statistics 2022
Alright, let’s now consider one of the most common question about mental health today, “Are mental health issues increasing or decreasing?”
According to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2022 the answer to this question is in the affirmative. In the brief, the World Health Organization reported that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%.
The brief also showed concerns about potential increase in mental health conditions had already prompted 90% of countries surveyed to include mental health and psychosocial support in their COVID-19 response plans.
Speaking on this Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said:
“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg. This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”
Impact of Lifestyle on Mental Health
As we have mentioned earlier a healthy lifestyle can be of a great benefit to one’s mental health. So, if the World Health Organization (WHO) is raising concerns about the state of mental health, because of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that we begin to make healthy lifestyle changes that will boost our mental health.
Below are 5 lifestyle choices you can change to improve your mental health:
- Make Healthy Diet Choices
According to studies, our diet can impact our mental health, both positively and negatively. According to new research from the University of Warwick, fruits and vegetables are associated with improved mental health.
This is significant because mental well-being—feelings of enthusiasm, joy, self-esteem, and resilience—can help to safeguard not only against mental health issues but also physical illnesses.
- Cut Back On Your Vices
Managing problem drinking or substance abuse is a no-brainer in terms of both mental and physical health. People with alcohol and drug problems are more likely than the general population to suffer from a mental illness, and their health outcomes are far worse.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA,
- In 2020, 50.0% of people aged 12 or older (or 138.5 million people) used alcohol in the past month (2020 NSDUH)
- Among the 138.5 million people who were current alcohol users, 61.6 million people (or 44.4%) were classified as binge drinkers and 17.7 million people (28.8% of current binge drinkers and 12.8% of current alcohol users) were classified as heavy drinkers (2020 NSDUH)
According to the WebMD, side effects of alcohol consumption include:
- Worsening of mental health after the calm feeling fades
- Hangovers including headaches and nausea and vomiting
- Post-alcohol anxiety and/or depression
- Spend Time in Quiet
We live in a noisy world. When we are outside, we are encircled by cars honking and public noises created by individuals, and the general hustle and bustle of the surroundings. When we are inside all day, such as at a desk, we are encircled by sounds from dialogues, texting, cell phones, office equipment, and so on.
We also have noises from TVs or radios inside our homes. Our phones are always buzzing, with notifications and of course the very loud call of social media.
Getting some quiet private time can do wonders for our mental health. This will result in more focused thoughts throughout the day. You can even try meditation, which promotes mental health.
- Use Stress Reduction Methods
Mental illness sustains stress, and stress sustains mental illness. Taking measures to reduce stress in your life can help to break this destructive cycle.
The following are some effective stress management techniques:
- Rest and relaxation
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Deep Breathing
- Eliminating sources of great stress
- Tai Chi
- Spend time doing things that bring you joy
- Discuss Your Problem with Someone
If you have things or an issue on your mind, getting it off your chest can help you a lot. It is important to remember that desiring assistance implies strength, not weakness. It has been said that an issue that is partially shared is an issue that is half solved.
When you suppress negative or hurtful thoughts, such as frustration, your mental health suffers. You will feel stressed and tense, and you may not get enough sleep at night. These emotions accumulate quickly, resulting in a somewhat desperate state that you cannot resist, such as depression or stomach ulcers.
Mental illnesses are incredibly common and are on the increase in the last few years. In the United States, statistics shows that 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness each year, 1 in 6 youths aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, and 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
These are not pleasant figures in any way. The good news however, is that we can make beneficial lifestyle choices which will greatly help with our mental health. While time and financial constraints may restrict a few people’s capacities to make such choices, we all can make small but significant changes starting today.
So, why not start with these 5 lifestyle choices today so you can improve your mental health?