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Improving your lifestyle, improving your mental health

Us humans are creatures of habit. Habits are important as it helps us through our day. The cool thing about habits, is that we can program our brains and start new habits that are beneficial for us, and our mental health. Keeping a healthy and positive lifestyle is very important, as there has been evidence that showed the links between keeping a positive lifestyle and an improvement in one’s mental health.

Making changes doesn’t have to be drastic, and changes doesn’t have to be scary. Changes are made slowly, and gradually. Here are some of the things that you can do to improve your lifestyle:

Improve your diet, and start moving!

Improving your diet can be as simple as eating breakfast everyday. This is important, because those who regularly eat breakfast are shown to exhibit fewer depressive symptoms than those who don’t (Lee, SA et al, 2017).

Maybe start to foods that are rich in magnesium, folate, zinc and essential fatty acids into your diet as this helps your brain to function optimally. These foods include green vegetables, wholegrains, fruit, and lean red meat, among many others (Lassale et al, 2018). For some more fun options, try adding foods that are rich in polyphenols such as berries, tea, and dark chocolate. Food that are rich in polyphenols are found to have therapeutic means to support a healthy brain (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).

If you’re not a big fan of exercising, maybe you can start by making a commitment to walk for 10 minutes everyday. This can be done inside, or outside. Afterwards, maybe try adding a few stretches. The amount of time can gradually be increased. When you’re comfortable, maybe you can start doing exercises, such as jogging and swimming. This is important as exercises may increase the level of brain serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is involved in regulating one’s mood (Black Dog Institute, 2017).

Prioritise rest and sleep

Have you ever heard of sleep hygiene? It is a behavioural and environmental practice, aimed to help people that have mild to moderate insomnia. However, this technique is found to help even those without insomnia (Irish et al, 2015).

To simplify, sleep hygiene is a term that is used to describe great sleep habits. This includes establishing a regular bedtime routine to help the body recognise bedtime. This could include:

  • Ideally, your bed is strictly for sleeping. Avoid doing any other activities in bed, such as doing work and being on your laptop
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday
  • Making sure that your sleep environment is pleasant; comfortable mattress and pillows, dim lights, and eye shades
  • Making sure that you don’t use any screens before bed; this includes phones, tablets, and laptops. These screens contains blue light, which will make your brain think that it’s still day time
  • Establishing a nightly routine, outside of your beed, to relax your mind; adult colouring, a relaxing bath, or light stretches
  • When you can’t sleep, or you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, after 15 minutes have passed, you might want to step aside from your bed and resume your nightly routine. Continuing your adult colouring, for one, or read a book

Disconnect, and connect with others

Disconnecting includes spending less time on your screens, scrolling and searching. This is because your devices can be too stimulating, that disconnecting for a few minutes can give you your much-needed mental break.

As social beings, it is equally important for us to connect with others, preferably face to face. One of the biggest triggers of symptoms of mental illness is isolation. When you spend time with your family and friends, and generally around the people that you enjoy being with, they can make you feel happier and more content. They can also be your support system, and can be the ones that listen when you just need to get out from your head. Remember, things are almost always worse in your head.

Stress-reducing techniques

This can be done through various simple things, such as:

  • Listening to an uplifting song
  • Squeezing a stress-ball
  • Making “me-time” a priority, such as enjoying the sunsets, taking a long walk, or just taking a moment to list down things you’re grateful for. It is worth noting that exposure to sunshine helps to maintain our levels of serotonin, which is our mood-maintaining chemical (Lambert, 2002). So maybe that walk is a good idea, after all.
  • Practice breathing techniques

Knowing when to reach out for help

As important it is to make lifestyle changes that are positive for you, they are not a replacement of medication or counselling. Sometimes, as life goes, things get a little too rough and you might find that the changes you have been making aren’t as helpful as they once been, or you might find that you can do with a little bit more help. Sometimes we think that we can do everything on our own, but then things feel a little too overwhelming. When this happens, please know that it is always okay to reach out; whether to a friend, to your family, or to a professional. Learning how to be gentle on yourself and knowing when to reach help, ultimately, is the best lifestyle changes you can make.

Those are just five things that you can start doing to improve your lifestyle. There are many other things out there. One thing to remember that is incredibly important is that change takes time. Implement these things one by one, and slowly, into your life. It’s okay if you can’t do it all at once, you’re not meant to, anyway. You’re meant to do these gradually. For a start, it’s around that time to make a new year’s resolution… maybe try to jolt down which one of these techniques you’d like to implement in the coming new year!

Learn more about lifestyle and mental health at Seribu Tujuan

Black Dog Institute, 2017, Exercise and Depression fact sheet,

Gomez-Pinilla, F., & Nguyen, T.T. (2012). Natural mood foods: the actions of polyphenols against psychiatric and cognitive disorders, Nutr Neusoci, 3, 127-133. doi: 10.1179/1476830511Y.0000000035

Irish, L.A., Kline, C.E., Gunn, H.E., Buysse, D.J., & Hall, M.H. (2015) The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence, Sleep Med Rev, 22, 23-26. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2014.10.001

Lambert, G.W., Reid, C., Kaye, D.M., Jennings, G.L., & Esler, M.D. (2002). Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain, Lancet, 360, 1840-1842, DOI: 10.1016/s0140-6736(02)11737-5

Lassale, C., Batty, G.B., Baghdadli, A., Jacka, F., Sanchez-Villegas, A., Kivimaki, M., & Akbaraly, T. (2018) Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies, Molecular Psychiatry, 24, 965-986.

Lee, S.A., Park, E.C., Ju, Y.J., Lee, T.H., Han, E., & Kim, T.H (2017) Breakfast consumption and depressive mood: a focus on socioeconomic status, Appetite, 114, 313-319, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.04.007