Mental Health Benefits of a Healthy Lifestyle

The positive benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle have long been documented, however as a campaigner for maternal mental health, I think it’s important that we not only focus on physical fitness but also positive mental wellness.

Having been on a personal journey to battle maternal OCD, it came as no surprise that statistics of postnatal mental health issues are on the rise. I was however shocked to learn, that based on a study of the Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in the UK, suicide is the leading cause of death for postnatal women.  

Having recently debated the pro’s and con’s of using medication to treat maternal mental health issues ( article here), I decided to highlight some of the more holistic approaches available for mental health recovery. PLUS I’ve detailed a few energy boosting and mood improving tips too!

Drawing on my own experience with hypnotherapy, CBT and exercise prescription, here’s a first hand account of how these treatments could impact your life.

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The Cause

Contrary to popular belief, hormones are not the only catalyst for the onset of maternal mental health issues. Other factors such as lack of sleep, changes in routine, increased responsibilities and additional demands on a couple’s relationship could also be triggers. Living with a partner suffering from depression or anxiety can also be a contributing factor. 

It’s also important to highlight that not only women are affected by postpartum mental health issues. Approximately 1 in 28 new fathers are likely to suffer from depression during the first year after childbirth. Alongside which, research undertaken by ITV found that although the majority of men still report no symptoms of PND, a further 1 in 3 dads did raise concern about their mental health in some regard.

Physical fitness and mental health

Studies have shown us that there is a 20-30% lower risk of depression for adults participating in daily physical activity. The Faculty of Sport and exercise medicine UK produced guidelines on this stating that, ‘Participation in regular physical activity can increase self-esteem and reduce stress and anxiety. Physical activity can help play a role in preventing mental health problems and improve the quality of life of those experiencing them’.

However, despite this evidence there is still a lingering stigma surrounding mental health. In fact, it’s this which sometimes causes people to seek holistic treatments, as it seems there is less stigma attached to this type of treatment in comparison to medication or psychotherapy. Exercise is a great way to encourage the release of endorphins (happy hormones), as well as being free and widely accessible.

So, what’s stopping people from engaging with exercise? It’s believe that a major barrier to health and fitness is how the wellness industry itself is perceived. We need to change the way physical activity is viewed in the UK and rather then it being something we HAVE to do, it should become something we WANT to do!

Did exercise help me:?

I began using exercise as part of my treatment roughly 15 years ago. My parents were divorcing, I moved house, changed schools and started a new ( and somewhat turbulent) relationship. So to summarise, I was dealing with a lot of change. I felt I needed something consistent that help me clear my mind.

Since this time my love of sports and fitness has doubled. Especially as a mum, I find that when i’m stressed or worried, going for a short walk or run immediately boosts my mood and helps me establish a fresh perspective of the situation. Meaning I can then engage with parenting in a more positive way.

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Other holistic options

Although exercise was a huge catalyst for my own recovery, it wasn’t the only type of treatment I tried. I have found over time, that a range of treatments is the best way to combat mental health.

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Hypnotherapy and mental health

Hypnotherapy, has long been used during the prenatal period in the style of hypo-birthing, however seems to be a controversial issue when it comes to mental health. According to the Harvard Health website, hypnosis has been proven to treat anxiety, however still remains a question mark for those struggling with depression or personality disorders such as Bi-Polar or Schizophrenia. Some believe that using hypnosis for mental health comes with risk of triggering a negative thought pattern.

Did Hypnosis help me?

In all honestly, Hypnotherapy was probably the catalyst for my recovery. I was hesitant to begin with however I’m pleased I gave this a try. I found that after Hypnosis, I was able to access a clarity of mind, which allowed me space to re-set the negative thought patterns and re-engage with a positive way of thinking. I had four sessions however still continue to practice mindfulness on a regular basis.

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Cognitive Behavioural talk therapy

A combination or targeting how you think (your cognitive function) alongside how you act (your behaviour) CBT is a common treatment on the NHS for those struggling with their mental health. Although billed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists as ‘one of the most effective treatments for conditions where anxiety or depression is the main problem’, CBT does not work for everybody. A study undertaken by the BBC found that just under half of people (46%) found CBT helped reduce their symptoms by 50%.

Did CBT help me?

Personally I think it’s not just the therapy but the therapist who will make a difference. I tired CBT a number of times with limited success, however finally I met with a therapist who used the method of CBT in a way that resonated with me. Combined with other threatments this certainly made a huge impact on my recovery. I feel as though CBT is a great tool to help clients maintain their recovery after sessions have ended.

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Diet and Anxiety

They say you ‘are what you eat’, but how does what you consume impacts how you feel? Dietary amendments have been linked to shifts in mood for years, however research is still in the early stages. With very few statistics available it’s difficult to draw a conclusion here, however according to Harvard health online, a high sugar intake may increase feelings of anxiety. Similarly, a review of a study examining the effects of diet on anxiety, highlighted that some foods were seen to affect animal behaviour patterns and as such may do so for humans as well. Products such a caffeine have long been under question for causing feelings of agitation, but new research is now looking in to the possible side effects of dairy products in relation to anxiety too.

Did diet-change help me?

I’ve honestly never been a fan of ‘diet's’ and instead have always promoted a heathy balanced diet! However, when struggling with my mental health I found that on days I consumed high amounts of dairy late in the evening, I struggled to sleep and suffered more anxiety at night. Since this time I have switched to using Almond milk for breakfast however I still use full dairy cheese in cooking.


What’s right for you?

Ultimately, what’s ‘right for you’ depends on, well, you! Everyone is unique and certain treatments seem to work best for some rather than others. I think what’s important is to recognise the various options available and be open to trial and error when it comes to your own recovery. Mental health recovery is a journey and it can take a substantial amount of time to resolve your issues. But know that you CAN RECOVER!

Below are 5 energy boosting tips and 5 anxiety reducing ideas! Something to support you whilst you find the right kind of treatment for you.

5 Anxiety reducing tips

  1. Reduce Screen Time at night: Using a telephone or tablet close to bedtime can negatively impact your quality of sleep, so try to avoid screen time late at night. Perhaps opt for a ‘bedroom-ban’ on all technology.

  2. Refuel: Making sure you consume a well balanced diet can greatly affect levels of anxiety. Hunger is often linked to feelings of irritation and stress which can cause people to develop more anxiety.

  3. Take Deep breaths: The level of oxygen in your system directly impacts the amount of adrenaline, so by taking a few deep breaths you will be able to reduce anxious feelings.

  4. Be Outside: The quality of oxygen is at it’s best outdoors so when you can find the time take a quick 5/10 minute stroll outside to help improve your mood.

  5. Laughter is the best medicine: Laughter triggers the release of endorphins. Alongside which, the act of laughing causes the whole body to physically relax, thereby promoting a calmer and more positive mental state.

5 ENERGY BOOSTING TIPS

  1. Stay hydrated: Dehydration has been proven to cause drowsiness, so make sure to consume enough fluids to support efficient brain function and boost energy!

  2. Get some fresh air: Oxygen helps you to feel brighter and outdoors is where you’ll find the best quality O2. Even a 5/10 minute break outside will do wonders for your energy levels.

  3. Stretch and exercise: Stretching increases the circulation of blood throughout your body helping to efficiently distribute oxygen and boost energy. Similarly exercise promotes the release of endorphins, boosting mood and energy throughout the day.

  4. Reduce Stress: Stress has been known to increase fatigue so where possible lighten your load. Keep a to-do list and methodically work through the list but make sure to schedule breaks into your working day.

  5. Socialise: Isolation can cause low moods and tiredness. In fact people with a wider social network are suggested to have better physical and mental health as they age. Try joining a new social club or exercise with friends.