What's your 'five a day' for your mental health

What's your 'five a day' for your mental health
man jogging on beach - Image credit Kate Hiscock (Flickr)
Your '5 a day' has long been associated with the fruit and veg we need to be consuming as part of a healthy lifestyle, and we have always considered our bodies as being tantamount to our well-being. This may be due to the stigma that has so long been attached to mental health - until recently it was barely spoken of, or only in hushed tones. Thankfully the current liberal attitude means people are able to take their mental well-being into consideration as much as their physical health. However it is not quite as straightforward as a little fruit and veg, here, a more holistic approach is necessary.

When considering your ‘5 a day’, mindfulness and mental health go hand in hand as mindfulness is thought to be as effective as medication, reducing relapses into depression as much as 44%. As mental health is deeply personal, so should your approach to your mindfulness and 5 a day be tailored to your own needs and lifestyle. Whether you choose something from each of our sections, or just take them as inspiration, it is up to you.

We spoke to Mindapples, an app that helps you manage your mind and describes itself as “Grounded in science and backed by a passionate community, we aim to make looking after our minds as natural as brushing our teeth.” When asked about their ‘5 a day’, Michele responded with her own list:

Walk in cities

Play the piano badly

Do something I’m good at

Be myself with people

Give in to temptation, at least once a day

Concentrating on yourself
woman meditating - Image Credit: Pexels (Pixabay)

Carving a quarter of an hour out of your day can seem impossible, the constraints of a busy life does not leave much room to stop and think, but it is important to focus on yourself for a little while.

This can take many forms, but meditating is popular, especially as it requires a similar concentration to mindfulness. SELF is a source of Wellness information and is a community to share personal stories. Annelies Richmond, an international teacher of personal development, meditation, wellness, and leadership programs for the Art of Living Foundation and the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), tells SELF she has seen some impressive results from meditation in people with varied levels of depression. "Even [some people who have] had depression for 20 to 25 years, I've seen them come out of it," she says. The research backs up what Richmond has observed into practice.”

Meditation is not the only option, as you can find a quiet moment whenever necessary, whether it is 20 minutes in the bath or a retreat at a spa in Yorkshire to continue to build on the progress you have made so far.

man listening to music - Image Credit: JESHOOTS (pexels)

A wonderfully portable way to refocus and reconnect, technology allows us to take our music anywhere and shut out the world for the space of a single song.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, music is deeply powerful: “Research has shown that when people listen to music that they prefer they have reduced the need for pain mediation, need less anaesthesia, and experience less stress during medical procedures. Music can also help lessen the perception of pain and help alleviate depression in people experiencing chronic pain. Music is used to help people recover when they have lost speech ability because of a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Specific types of music therapy can foster development of alternative neural pathways in healthy parts of the brain when some parts of the brain are damaged.”

Whether you are feeling stressed and need to take five minutes in your lunch break or you come home to cook to your favourite songs, music is constantly running through our lives and should not go unnoticed for the impact it has.

Creative Expression
 woman writing in diary - Image Credit: picjumbo (Pixabay)

Self-expression is important for every individual, but if you are feeling a lack of control it is vital. This can come in many forms and not everyone feels the need to express in the same way, however as long as you are creating, whether that is baking, singing, drawing, writing or even gardening, you are also using your body and centring yourself further.

There is also an element of tactility involved that is being lost in modern life. So many people spend their day in front of a screen that picking up a pen feels different, less like work. The Mental Health Foundation understand the importance of the creative arts in therapy:

“Formal arts therapies for people with mental health problems aim to help people draw on their inner, creative resources while exploring personal issues with a trained arts therapist in a safe, contained space, in order to achieve psychological change.

“Arts therapies include art, dance movement, drama and music. Practitioners are trained to post-graduate level and must be State Registered in order to practise”.

This should be done every day, so writing a diary, singing along to the radio or dancing while you hoover could all prove effective.

Exercise and the great outdoors
man jogging on the beach - Image Credit: Kate hiscock (Flickr)

Getting home and hitting the gym may not sound appealing but making a little time for physical exercise can do a lot to clear your head and improve your mental well-being. Though the great outdoors is included in this section, exercise can be enjoyed in any location, as long as you spend a little time each day outside the home and office environment and somewhere with a little greenery.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the effect physical exercise can have on your well-being are multiple: “Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.

“When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”

Family and friends
woman on the phone (image credit: Pixabay)

Having those around you who support you is crucial to your happiness and contacting them once a day, whether that is a quick message on Facebook or a chat in the evening, can make all the difference.

Eve Peyser wrote a brutally honest article for Cosmopolitan about her own struggles with anxiety and depression, and speaks of how engaging with people in any form has a positive effect: “One thing I've learned about myself through communicating with other people about mental illness is that when I'm at my lowest lows, engaging with someone, anyone, makes me feel immediately better. Just talking gets me out of the miserable, lonely prison of depression. On those days when I can't even leave my bed, Twitter puts me in touch with the world.”