Emotional wellbeing is an important part of life; it is a vital part of our mental health, and on the whole, we are seeing more and more mental health issues – according to the WHO’s Europe office, mental disorders are the most common form of disability, with 30-40% of chronic sick leave being attributed to medical studies recognize the positive effects of exercise on mood states such as anxiety, stress and depression.
Given this knowledge, maintaining and maximising your emotional wellbeing will help you live life to the fullest, so what can we do to take responsibility for our own emotional wellbeing?
IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING YOUR EMOTIONAL WELLBEING
According to Samaritans, The Samaritans reported that England and Wales saw 5,691 suicides in 2019, and this was an increase in number from the year before by 321, though the suicide rate has remained the same, at 11 deaths per 100,000 people. It is worth noting that the worst affected groups are men aged 45-49 and women aged 50-54, though the rate for men is much higher at 25.5 per 100,000 as opposed to 7.4 per 100,000 for women. It is worth knowing that some suicides are not registered for a year or more after the fact.
What is clear is that suicide is a significant issue for society, and rates have been increasing; the suicide rate for females under 25 almost doubled from 2012 to 2019. According to a paper published in 2019 by Nugent, A.C., Ballard, E.D., Park, L.T. et al, the causes of suicide are Research on the pathophysiology, treatment, and prevention of suicide: practical and ethical issues. So, while more research is done, we need to utilise our knowledge of mechanisms that positively impact our mental health, and make this information common knowledge.
While suicide is one of the worst outcomes of poor mental health, one way to avoid this result is to take the time to boost your mental health. Anyone suffering from anxiety and depression, however severe, can take steps to reduce symptoms – but it does require putting in effort and spending time researching, and I understand that it can be a challenge for those suffering with these issues. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants, but I would highly recommend attacking these problems from multiple angles for the best results. For those with less severe mental health issues, you can still consider lifestyle factors that could be improved, that will in turn improve your mental health.
So – our aim is to establish habits that help to maintain a positive perception of the challenges that face us, and to stay positive enough that in hard times we can assure ourselves ‘this too shall pass’. The question is: what can we do to help ourselves?
LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO IMPROVE YOUR EMOTIONAL WELLBEING
A proven way to help your mental health is physical exercise. Physical activity has a positive effect on mental health, and there is plenty of evidence to support this, and understanding of the mechanisms at play is only growing. Regular exercise can:
- Improve sleep
- Improve endurance
- Reduce stress
- Improve mood
- Increase energy and stamina
- Reduce tiredness, can increase mental alertness
- Reduce weight
- Reduce cholesterol and improve cardiovascular fitness
Evidence of the Importance of Dietary Habits Regarding Depressive Symptoms and Depression – a 2020 review isolated five categories of result – adherence to dietary recommendations, pro-inflammatory diet, dietary intake of folic acid, magnesium and fatty acids, dietary choices, and the causal link between diet and depression.
The review found that high adherence to dietary recommendations in many studies in different areas of the world showed a significant protective effect against depression and its symptoms. Several studies in the review found that foods with inflammatory potential were associated with a risk of depression in different populations. Some foods linked to a greater inflammatory effect are sweets, refined flour, high fat products, red and processed meat; foods with less inflammatory impact were vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and fish.
The review found that some of the studies examined found certain micronutrients are also linked to mental illness, like magnesium. However, in the subjects with good dietary adherence, their consumption of many of the micronutrients was highest, and these people had less risk of depressive symptoms.
The review indicates that while different diets have been shown to have positive or negative effects on the risk of depression, it also found that regardless of diet, the risk of depression increased with the number of foods not allowed in the diet! This suggests that eating a healthy diet 80% of the time allows you a little lee-way to indulge, or branch out if you are on a particular diet!
A few good rules to follow are to make sure you include fruits and vegetables! Research shows deficiencies in omega fatty acids are also linked to the development of many psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Omega fatty acids are also essential for good brain function, so it may be worth taking a supplement if you aren’t getting them in your diet.
Work-life balance can be a very hard thing to achieve, and in order to do so, you need energy and a positive frame of mind. A study on the self-reported health among adults in Europe and work-life balance found Work-life balance and self-reported health among working adults in Europe. Making sure you have enough energy for productive work time and to enjoy family or leisure time is essential here.
The alternatives are to re-negotiate working hours, find a new position that has more amenable hours, or change vocation – all aspects with no guarantees, and potentially, a lot of risk.
PROPER REST AND SLEEP
Sleep is still a mysterious event for us, while studies are finding out more about it, there is still much we don’t know. Utilising the information we do have, we know that sleep deprivation can kill, so it is vital to our existence. Improving our quality of sleep is therefore likely to improve our overall health.
Physically, our body does a lot of recovery when we sleep, which is why bodybuilders aim for 10 hours of sleep a night. When it comes to mental health, a lack of sleep has been associated with a negative impact – a 2017 study from Daniel Freeman et al. The effects of improving sleep on mental health (OASIS): a randomised controlled trial with mediation analysis, such as psychotic experiences.
How can we improve our quality of sleep then? A few simple options are available to us:
- start with a regular bed time – your body clock will get into routine and you’ll find yourself wanting to settle down at the same time every evening.
- Allow your senses to wind down – so no looking at a screen 30 minutes before bed!
- Exercise will help with restful sleep..
- Eating right before bed can cause acid reflux, as well as incomplete digestion due to the body’s slowed processes at this time. Try to avoid this!
- Don’t take caffeine late in the day.
GIVING UP BAD HABITS
We’ve all got a few bad habits, however some bad habits will impact your physical and mental health more than others. Alcohol has a negative effect on anxiety and depression, as well as causing memory and concentration problems. There is a strong link between alcohol abuse, self harm and suicide, so cutting down and keeping a lid on your alcohol consumption is vital.
Smoking is another one of these lifestyle factors. Studies show that Tobacco smoking as a risk factor for depression. Quitting smoking is therefore the single best thing you can do for your overall health.
E-cigarettes are proving to be an effective weapon in the fight against tobacco use, with one study indicating e-cigarettes could be almost twice as effective as forms of Nicotine Replacement Therapy available, when accompanied by behavioural support. Public Health England asserts that e-cigarettes are Public Health England believe that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes, so anyone planning or trying to quit should be aware that e-cigarettes are a serious option to help you get off tobacco. Speak to your local vape shop for advice and options to get you started on an e-cigarette today!
REACHING OUT WHEN YOU NEED HELP
It is never a bad idea to reach out when you are struggling. This may be talking to a family member or friend, if the problems bugging you aren’t too severe. They may be able to offer a different perspective on your problems, and sometimes that is all we need to get back on the right track.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, it may be better to seek professional help – someone who is qualified to help and is likely to have done so before. Not everyone is equipped to deal with such issues, and seeking help from the wrong person may well do more damage than good.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO IMPROVE YOUR EMOTIONAL WELLBEING CONCLUSION
So it turns out that there is quite a lot that we can do to improve our emotional wellbeing. The trick is to make manageable changes that you can maintain day to day – don’t bite off more than you can chew. Try taking one aspect from each of the categories in this article (at most!) and incorporate it into your daily life. When you feel you have successfully incorporated these changes, take another point from each of the categories and work to incorporate them, so on and so forth until you are happy with where you are.
Taking the time and effort to make these little changes, and working to keep building on them, will see you improve your physical health as well as your mental health – they naturally affect each other and so improving one is likely to lead to improvements in the other. Remember these are lifestyle changes, not temporary fixes – if you are suffering with your emotional wellbeing then it is clear you are at risk, so you need to maintain a lifestyle that helps you.
Treat yourself as someone you are responsible for – negotiate with yourself, because being a tyrant and trying to force yourself doesn’t work. Have patience with yourself – it’s ok to drop the ball time and again, just know that you are your own responsibility, so pick that ball up and try, try again.