Feeling good: Keys to emotional health

Stress isn't always a bad thing. Distress, however, can impact our health in many negative ways.

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The real challenge with adopting healthier behaviours and making sustainable changes is keeping it up. A crucial piece of the lifestyle medicine puzzle is emotional health.

Stressed out

Stress is a natural human response when faced with challenging or dangerous situations, but a stress-free life is not the goal. Stress can be helpful when it increases our ability to be alert, energised, switched on and resourceful in managing daily tasks. Stress becomes detrimental when it leaves us feeling fatigued, tense, anxious, burnt out or overwhelmed. When stress is unusually prolonged or repetitive, it becomes a threat to health. This is distress. Distress can affect our health in many ways, including heart health (releasing the heart-rate-raising hormone adrenaline), gut function (including heartburn, nausea and indigestion), immune function (our psychological state can affect our nervous system, which in turn affects our immune system) and emotional health (stress changes the way we feel, which can influence our behaviour and decisions).

Brain foods to mend your mind

When it comes to feeling great, a plant-based diet comes out on top.

  • Berries contain phytonutrients that boost cognition, coordination and memory.
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli can help enhance memory.
  • Garlic phytonutrients may help prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale help support the immune system and keep an ageing brain sharp.
  • Nut consumption may enhance mood and can help with clarity and clear thinking.
  • Olive oil is rich in phytochemicals that help enhance blood flow in the brain.
  • Seeds contain high vitamin E and omega-3 beneficial fats that may help brainpower and mood.
  • Wholegrains rich in phytonutrients and B group vitamins are a great energy source needed for maintaining concentration throughout the day and improving memory.

Tips to mend your mind

Go green. There’s something incredibly therapeutic about immersing yourself in the natural world. Exposure to nature can help enhance relationships and promote positive health behaviours. Breathing in fresh air, as well as safe exposure to sunlight, can also help elevate health and mood.

Move more. Exercise is a powerful way to mend the mind. Exercise and its effects have been linked to relieving depression and reducing anxiety. It has also been known to enhance cognition, memory and brain development. It’s never too late to begin an exercise regime, with the benefits of exercise going far beyond emotional health.

Rest well. Sleep has a big impact on our health. Lack of sleep affects mood, motivation, judgement and our perception of events. It can also be associated with anxiety disorders and depression. Try sticking to a sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and preparing light evening meals to improve sleep quality.