by Kristin Musch, RN-BC, CCM
Behavioral Health Clinical Manager, TriWest Healthcare Alliance
Phoenix — "Eat well, exercise regularly, sleep well, and make good choices. I love you!" Those were my parting words as I dropped my daughter off at college.
Not bad advice, but I missed the point: "Create a meaningful and joyful life! Enjoy the ride!"
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Often when we think of mental disorders, we think about how to address them rather than prevent them. Research shows that living a healthy lifestyle can actually help prevent mental health problems and increase resiliency, allowing us to bounce back after challenges. And we will all have challenges!
College is only one of the many time-limited experiences in our lives that go by quickly. Watching our kids grow, building a career, creating a home, deploying to a war zone, caring for aging parents; all can be fraught with stress. But once they are past, we may look back on them with yearning, understanding that we will never get back that time with the important people in our lives.
So what kind of things can we do on a daily basis that helps us to "enjoy the ride?" Here is a quick look at some of the research supporting the "eat well, exercise regularly and sleep well" advice:
Exercise: A study published October 28, 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine analyzed research findings over 26 years and found that moderate amounts of exercise not only helped people recover from depressive episodes, but helped to prevent it in the long run. George Mammen, the PhD candidate who published the study states, "It's definitely worth taking note that if you're currently active, you should sustain it. If you're not physically active you should initiate the habit. This review shows promising evidence that the impact of being active goes far beyond the physical."
Sleep: A link between sleep duration and depression has been found in two recently published studies. American Academy of Sleep Medicine President, Dr. M. Safwan Badr states, "Healthy sleep is a necessity for physical, mental and emotional well-being." Additionally, "This research emphasizes that we can make an investment in our health by prioritizing sleep." So how do we get a good night's sleep? Limit caffeine (especially after noon), exercise in the morning or late afternoon, and establish a regular bedtime routine. There is a great app that was created by the Defense Centers of Excellence called CBT-i Coach. It is available for both iOS and Android phones and is free! It has great tips and tools for improving your sleep.
Nutrition: The research on depression and nutrition is not as definitive, but there are some studies that show a link between a poor diet and mental illness. A healthy diet includes eating:
- Foods high in nutrients to support repair and growth
- Foods high in antioxidants like beta-carotene (broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, spinach, sweet potato), Vitamin C (Blueberries, broccoli, oranges, peppers, potatoes, tomato), and Vitamin E (nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, avocados, spinach, whole grains)
- Smart carbohydrates: choose complex carbohydrates like whole grains, along with plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes. Avoid sugary foods.
- Foods rich in protein to boost alertness: fish, poultry, milk, soy products, low fat dairy, legumes
- Foods rich in selenium and Omega 3 fatty acids
- Limit alcohol and/or drugs
A great resource for recipes and nutritional information can be found on the website The World's Healthiest Foods at http://www.whfoods.com/
Find meaning/purpose: Research shows that those who believe their lives have meaning or purpose are more content and satisfied. Victor Frankl wrote eloquently about this in his book Man's Search for Meaning, which recalls his experiences and observations while in a Nazi concentration camp. Oftentimes people find meaning and purpose in relationships. Blake Chaffee, PhD, VP of Integrated Health Services at TriWest Healthcare Alliance, challenged an audience: "Think of someone in your past who supported and believed in you; that went out of their way to help you to succeed. Now think of someone who would list YOU as that person in their lives. If you are not on someone else's list, think about how you are going to change that and start today."
TriWest has a Behavioral Health Portal to help you improve your well-being: http://www.triwest.com/en/behavioral-health/
Also, visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may for mental health assessments, screenings and tools—all available online, free of charge, during May's Mental Health Awareness Month!