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Mental Health Awareness Week

Introduction to Mental Health Issues

Highlighting the issues of mental health is important not only one week every year but all year round. The stresses of the last few years with a pandemic and an economic crisis has set us all on edge. In England alone there was a record 4.6 million referrals during 2022 (an increase of 22% from 2019), putting further demands on services that are already under a lot of pressure. It is therefore important for each one of us to look after and nurture our own mental health.

Mental health requires a multi-faceted approach and there is not a one size fits all but the following tips may help to keep your brain functioning and able to cope with the demands of a stressful modern life.

Foods That May Boost Brain Function

A diet consisting of a wide variety of foods especially fruit and vegetables is required for good brain function. There are many foods that can be beneficial for mental health, but here are three that have been shown to have a positive impact:

  • Fatty Fish: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats have been linked to improved brain function and decreased risk of depression and anxiety. It is recommended we eat 2-3 portions of oily fish per week to get the recommended amount omega-3.

  • Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate (70%+) contains compounds that can boost mood and improve cognitive function. It also has a lower sugar content than milk chocolate, which can help prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes that can negatively affect mood. And who doesn't feel more encouraged after some chocolate.

  • Leafy Greens: Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, cabbage, and lettuce are high in nutrients such as folate, which has been shown to improve mood and reduce the risk of depression. They are also rich in antioxidants, which may help protect the brain from damage.

A healthy diet mainly consists of good protein from animal and/or plant sources; good quality fats such as, oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados; 7+ fruit and vegetables per day; and complex carbohydrates like wholegrains.

Increasing serotonin may help improve mood

80% of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to feeling happy. To produce serotonin we need good levels of tryptophan which is an essential amino acids which we can not synthesis and need to get it from our food. Tryptophan can be found in some food high in protein. Foods known to be high in tryptophan include:

  • chicken

  • eggs

  • cheese

  • fish

  • peanuts

  • pumpkin

  • sesame seeds

  • milk

  • turkey

  • tofu

  • soy

Most people if they are eating a variety of these foods should consume enough tryptophan.

The Importance of Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a really helpful way of calming down the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps to stimulate the vagus nerve which runs from the gut to the brain. It's not uncommon for people with IBS to struggle with anxiety and vice versa. Relaxing the vagus help may help to improve mental wellbeing as well as improving digestive issues.

There are many types of deep breathing techniques. Practicing deep breathing techniques maybe helpful in stimulating the vagus nerve. One breathing technique I like is the 4-7-8. To do this

  • Breathe in for 4

  • Hold for 7

  • Blow out for 8.

  • Repeat 4 times

You can then work up to 3 sessions of breathing per day, but start with one a day to get use to the technique. They are helpful for sleep so doing the exercise at bedtime can be very beneficial if you are struggling with getting to sleep. If you wake during the night using this breathing technique can help you get back to sleep. I know I have found it very effective for this. Sleep is also key for good mental health, therefore, the breathing can improve many aspects of your health and wellbeing.

Nature and Spirituality

Myself and my friend (see photo above) went out for a prayer walk the other evening in Ross Hall Park, in the Crookston area of South Glasgow. It really is a beautiful, peaceful and therapeutic place. Research shows that being in nature helps to revive our sense of wellbeing. How could you not feel better after going for a walk in this park?

Ross Hall Park, Glasgow

There are many parks all over Glasgow, including Glasgow Green, Kelvingrove, Queens Park, Pollok Park, and many others. Is it time you were out in nature more, enjoying the smells an sounds of nature to revive your sense of calmness and peace.

Another area that research shows that is helpful for your mental health is prayer and meditation. I find a good prayer walk helps me to pour out my worries and connect to my spiritual self. I definitely think that prayer for me has been so much more therapeutic than antidepressants. I believe without prayer I would most likely be reaching for a pill.

Stress release through nature and spirituality can improve gut health too. Getting out even for a short walk daily and meditation can have a good impact on your gut health too.

Other Ways to Boost Your Mental Wellbeing

There are many other ways to boost your mental wellbeing. Here are a few

  • Gardening - this is proving to be a very helpful way to help relieve stress and create a sense of achievement. Here in Glasgow there has been an increase in community gardens and gardening projects for the people with mental health challenge. Urban Roots is one such organisation, so if you are in Glasgow and you want to get involved in community garden get in contact with Urban Roots.

  • Be creative - if you enjoy the arts and crafts then take some time out paint a picture, make cards, flower arranging or other such activities. This helps you to be in the moment and stay in it.

  • Music - this is a great way to chill and relax. Or why not get your dancing feet on and have a good dance around the living room.

  • If you are really struggling then reach out and get help. The Samaritans and other organisation will only be too glad to listen.

If you would like to find out more about my services and how I can help check out my service page. This page contains free resources as well as information on my programmes.

Marie Jarvis, BSc, DipION, CNHC

BANT Registered Nutritionist specialising in gut health and weight loss

Glasgow, Scotland but also does online consultations

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