5 science-backed ways to improve your mental health and wellbeing
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. It’s time to take control of your mental wellbeing with these five simple steps – all backed by science.
With the COVID-19 pandemic triggering a 25% increase in mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression , taking care of your mental wellbeing is more important than ever. We understand that taking care of your mental wellbeing can seem tedious, and even sometimes a little like hard work.
So, to help you out, we’ve put together five simple ways – all backed by science.
Five simple steps to improve your mental health
1. Eat more brain foods
There is a clear link between your gut and mental health.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet packed with all the right vitamins and nutrients can improve mental wellbeing, reduce inflammation, and improve brain function – there are even specific foods that can help brain function and reduce stress at the same time.
Good brain foods that can reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing include:
- Fish or omega-3 fatty acid supplements
- Green tea
How can omega-3 fatty acids improve my mental health?
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish or omega-3 supplements (for people who have dietary requirements that don’t include fish or other omega-3 sources). Omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory and can help to reduce stress-related inflammation in your body . And it's likely to affect mood-related molecules in the brain, like serotonin. Studies have shown that people with depressive symptoms may benefit from omega-3 supplements alongside standard treatment, but more research is needed in this area before it can be recommended as a definitive treatment .
How can walnuts improve my mental health?
Walnuts are being dubbed the new brain food for stress, with their contents including omega-3 fatty acids, the hormone melatonin (vital for good quality sleep), and other important vitamins and nutrients associated with improving mental and gut health.
One study has shown that eating walnuts was associated with a reduction in stress levels . Whether this is down to the anti-inflammatory components, better-quality sleep, or general gut health is yet to be determined – but either way, it may be worth adding walnuts to your list of snacks when you’re feeling low or stressed.
How can green tea improve my mental health?
On the surface, green tea may appear uninspiring or lacking in calories, but it’s actually packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Its reduced caffeine content can make it a great swap from your afternoon coffee, to help with a better night’s sleep and reduction in stress levels .
But it’s not just the reduced caffeine at play in green tea. Most green teas contain the amino acid theanine. Theanine has been associated with a reduction in stress-related symptoms such as depression and anxiety, and an improvement in cognitive function . So, swapping out your afternoon tea or coffee for a hot cup of green tea could do both your mind and gut a favour.
Want to check in on your nutrition? See our range of Nutrition Blood Tests.
2. Take your recommended vitamin D supplement
Vitamin D is widely talked about, yet as many as one in six adults have low vitamin D levels. And because British weather may be leaving you more at risk of a vitamin D deficiency, the government recommends everyone should take a daily supplement in autumn and winter. If you’re more at risk of a vitamin D deficiency, then you may be recommended to take one all year round.
How can taking a vitamin D supplement improve my mental health?
From brain fog and tiredness to low mood and irritability, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with many symptoms that affect brain function .
Low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with insomnia – and poor-quality sleep can have a huge negative impact on your mental wellbeing.
Therefore, making sure you have healthy levels of vitamin D (by following government guidance on supplementation) can reduce your risk of developing poor mental health.
Want to check your vitamin D levels? Our Vitamin D Blood Test can help.
3. Discover different temperatures
Sauna bathing (the act of sitting in a sauna) is strongly associated with a decreased risk of psychosis in the male population  and is believed to help in boosting mood (most evidence for sauna bathing is based on men and more research is needed to investigate the benefits for women). Don’t have a sauna? No problem! Try taking a hot bath instead, which has similar stress-busting effects .
How can heat improve my mental health?
There’s a reason many Brits like to get away to hot countries on holiday. And the thought of sitting in the sun by a pool brings thoughts of joy and relaxation. But why does heat bring happiness?
Studies have shown that heat increases the release of endorphins (the happy hormones) , as well as increasing the blood flow and oxygenation to the brain , which may help to reduce stress and anxiety.
So, it’s not just the cheap alcohol and beautiful scenery that draws us to hotter countries – it may be the heat itself improving our mental health.
4. Find your focus
Focusing is a simple yet undervalued way to improve mental health. Focusing on anything that takes your interest, such as sports or comedy, can help to provide a temporary escape from anxious, stressful, or depressive thoughts.
Focusing in this sense isn’t just the act of watching or doing, but watching or doing mindfully – ensuring your whole self is immersed and you’re not distracted by anything else around you.
How can focusing help you improve your mental health?
How focusing can help improve your mental health will depend on what you’re focusing on. If you are focusing on yourself, for example, this can improve your self-awareness, allowing you to accept yourself as you are – flaws and all . Acknowledging that you are not perfect and learning to forgive yourself for mistakes you make can help to improve your mood and reduce feelings of self-hatred.
If you are finding your focus on a football match, learning to play an instrument, or reading a book – these ways of focusing can act as distractions and in turn, reduce any anxious or stressful thoughts.
5. Give breathing a try
Breathwork may sound unconventional, but something as simple as a deep breath in for the count of four, holding it for two counts, and exhaling for four counts can improve your state of mind. If you’re feeling really stressed, try breathing in through your nose and then when breathing out, let out a loud sigh – just that vocalisation can help to release some stress.
How can breathwork improve mental health?
Deep breathing in itself can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for keeping you relaxed) . Ensuring your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged can help to keep your body in a state of relaxation, rather than a chronic state of stress.
Breathwork can also stimulate the release of endorphins , leaving you feeling happier and more relaxed than before.
Where can I get support for my mental health?
Sometimes, self-help techniques alone may not be enough. If you have tried different ways to improve your mental health but have still been feeling low for more than two weeks, we recommend you speak to a medical professional. In some cases, a medical condition could be to blame for your low mood.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your GP about your mental health, there are other ways to get support, such as:
- Shout – Shout offers a text service that is free, confidential, and anonymous. You can text 8258 anywhere from the UK and a trained volunteer will be there for you, day or night.
- Your local self-referral service – if you feel like you aren’t ready to speak to your doctor in person but would like to refer yourself for therapy, you can do this via an online self-referral service.
- Hub of Hope – the Hub of Hope is an app that provides you with a list of your local mental health services.
- Samaritans – Samaritans offers a free helpline for support. You can call 116 123 anytime and a trained volunteer will be there to offer a listening ear.
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