Prioritizing one’s mental well-being can be challenging, particularly in today’s climate. Between 2019-2020, 20.78% of American adults were experiencing mental illness (Mental Illness America). That’s approximately 50 million Americans.

Studies have shown combining psychotherapy with medication is more effective than either treatment alone. In addition to these interventions, there are action steps you can take to improve your mental health.

Get Enough Sleep
Most of us require 7.5-8 hours of sleep to feel rested. It’s not surprising insomnia can negatively impact your mood and lead to other psychological problems.

Some tips to assure yourself a good night’s sleep:

  1. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol use in the evenings.
  2. Keep a set bed and wake-up time during the week and weekends.
  3. Avoid light from electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.
  4. Utilize relaxation strategies before bed, such as meditation tapes.
  5. Get regular exercise. However, try to avoid exercise in the evening.

If you feel you have healthy sleep habits and continue to experience excessive daytime fatigue, consider scheduling a sleep study. A sleep evaluation can help determine if you have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.

Provide Yourself with Proper Nutrition
It is well-known that nutrition can impact physical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. A diet lacking in certain essential nutrients can negatively affect mental health and exacerbate conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. It is theorized that nutrition may influence the effectiveness of antidepressants.

Some key points when making your nutrition selections:

  1. A diet comprising of vitamins and minerals from whole foods is best. However, if you are considering supplementation, research has shown the following are beneficial for overall mental health: omega-3 fatty acids, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.
  2. Saturated fats and sugar are considered to have negative effects on cognition and mood. Thus, limit intake of highly processed foods and sugary drinks.
  3. Try to achieve balance in your diet, consisting of complex carbohydrates (such as whole grain foods), unsaturated fat, lean protein (such as fish), fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and legumes. Too much of one food selection or group leads to an unbalanced and unhealthy diet.

Consider working with a registered dietician. Their expertise and training can assist you in reaching optimal nutrition, benefiting your overall mental and physical health.

Get Regular Exercise
The benefits of exercise on mental health have been recognized for a long time. Physical activity releases endorphins, the brain’s “feel good” chemicals leading to a sense of happiness and euphoria. In addition, regular exercise improves sleep and overall physical and mental health.

Some tips to remember when incorporating physical exercise in your routine:

  1. If you are not currently physically active, check in with your medical provider to ensure you are ready to begin an exercise routine and do not have any underlying health concerns.
  2. Set small goals at first, then gradually increase your activity by time or distance.
  3. Choose an activity you enjoy. You are more likely to continue with it if it is an activity you like. Adding a companion will also increase the likelihood you will continue.
  4. Make it a habit. Schedule physical activity during the time of day you are more likely to repeat several times a week. The greatest benefits appear when you exercise 15-30 minutes 3x a week.
  5. Notice how you feel after your exercise and use this motivation for future exercise rather than weight loss goals.

Regular exercise has many health benefits. Adding physical activity to your current treatment plan can reduce depression and anxiety severity and make you feel better overall.

Your Well-Being Wrap Up
These three areas, sleep, nutrition, and exercise, can all positively impact your mental health and the effectiveness of your medications. If you have questions about any of these areas and their relationship to your mental health and well-being, we’re here to help.

Sara Heit, APRN, CNS