Our brains are amazing organs. Humans, over thousands of years, have evolved and developed, we have built our own societies, developed language, art, and culture, built cities, travelled around the globe, developed technology, engineering and medicine. It is an unprecedented achievement and we couldn’t have done it without our brains!
We are all slaves to our thinking; although there are many positives in the way we think which allow us to grow and develop, many of us (about 1 in 4 people) can become consumed by more negative thinking patterns and suffer with our mental health.
Mental fitness is as important as physical fitness; looking after our brains, by feeding them the right nutrients and using more positive thinking patterns, allows us to live happier fuller lives. At some point in our lives we have all had down or dark times or times of anxiety, and as humans we all experience a range of emotions, from happy to sad, high to low, excited to anxious, calm to angry and most of us will also experience things we regret and feelings of shame, guilt, envy, jealousy, paranoia or bereavement. These may be fleeting thoughts for some, but for others they can overwhelm our lives. We can’t stop or control our thoughts, but we can become mentally fitter if we look after our brains and our thinking patterns.
There is no shame in seeking help, talking to trained professionals can be of great benefit and allow you to understand and help regain control of your life if you are in a dark place mentally. We all may need help at some point in our lives, often the first step is to talk to a family member or confide in a friend or even speak to your GP. There are many counsellors out there and sometimes just talking can really help, finding the right approach and someone you trust can be very beneficial to your health.
When seeking advice on your mental health, either through your GP or a psychiatrist, they may prescribe medication and although no-one likes to take medication, I do believe it can be beneficial, helping to lift you out of a dark place and allow you to live your life more freely. There may be side effects, but finding the right medication to make you feel better probably out ways any negative side effects, but always discuss with a medical professional and weigh up the pro’s and con’s.
Something that I advocate, and there is growing evidence for its benefits, is mindfulness; it can help with a wide range of emotions, thoughts and feelings and maybe also make our minds a calmer place. Even just practising for 5 minutes a day can be useful - by becoming more conscious of our anxious or negative thoughts and thinking patterns and understanding our triggers can really help. Even just taking time out to breathe consciously can be beneficial.
There are many good apps, books, CDs and courses out there to help engage with mindful practices, you can even incorporate mindfulness into daily activities, when walking or doing some yoga. Thinking well and mental fitness is just as important as physical health; becoming more aware of your own thinking patterns, particularly any negative thinking patterns, can help improve your life and your relationships.
I know from my own experience how our minds can take us down a dark path, reaching out and finding help is so important. Our minds are just as important as our bodies and the benefits of staying mentally fit can have a huge influence on our overall health.
For me, I found enrolling on a mindfulness course very beneficial and, with my busy life, I try and take moments out of my day to breathe consciously for a minute or two and do 5 minutes of mindfulness using an app. If I have more time I will do a longer meditation, and this works for me.
Top tips for mental fitness
You need omega 3’s for brain health, aim to eat oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring) at least three times a week, or if vegetarian or vegan, nuts, seeds and their oils are good options.
You need B-vitamins to help with brain chemistry – these can be found in wholegrains, proteins (meat, fish, dairy), nuts and seeds
Good sources of protein are needed for the synthesis of hormones, and include lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds and pulses and legumes.
If you are thinking about supplementing, which can be beneficial, I would suggest seeking advice from a nutritional therapist, who can prescribe the most appropriate ones on a more personal basis. They can also suggest testing of nutrient and micro-nutrient levels which would help to identify any deficiencies.
A nutritional therapist may also recommend supplements to help with anxiety and low mood.
Balance your blood sugar – eat meals, with protein, good fats, and fibre for more steady rises and falls in blood sugar, and cut back on refined foods high in hidden or added sugar.
Other top tips
If you feel like you are struggling, talk to someone, confide in someone you trust, it could be your GP or find a counsellor.
Mindfulness is a great habit to develop for mental fitness – try books, CDs, apps or join a course
Reduce or try to minimise stress in your life – find ways to relax and do activities you enjoy
Getting your recommended 8 hours sleep can really improve mood
Exercise and physical activity has been shown to benefit mental health
Remember to breathe! Just taking time out to consciously breathe can have a very beneficial effect!