TAKING care of yourself can easily end up at the bottom of the to-do list – especially when you’ve got work, the kids and paying the bills to deal with.
But how well we cope with all those responsibilities can be really affected by our mental health and how robust it is.
Clocking what shape our mental health is in can be tricky, especially when you’re super busy or a bit knackered.
There are a few simple things to look out for though that could be a sign your mental health is under stress.
Nutritionist Jess Hillard, from sports nutrition brand Warrior (www.teamwarrior.com), explains five tell-tale signs that your mental health could be under strain…
1. You’re overworking and doing long hours
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Taking on extra hours at work, or a second job, to help with the rise in cost of living?
“These long working hours can massively aggravate anxiety, depression, and eventual burnout,” says Jess.
Symptoms of overworking include: weight fluctuations, constant fatigue, lack of sleep and frequently feeling run down, “which all in turn lead towards a weakened immune system”, says Jess.
She adds: “The health issues that coincide with overworking are extensive and can escalate into serious problems rapidly.
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“Studies have shown that those who work 55-65+hours per week have considerably worse mental health when compared to those who work less than 40 hours per week.
“Studies also found that those who overwork, are at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. e.g. type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure.”
She says this is because overwork can have a knock on effect on our eating habits, stress levels, alcohol consumption, sleep and the amount of exercise we’re doing.
“To help keep our overall health in check and avoid an eventual burnout we really should be limiting our working hours to around 40 hours per week,” says Jess.
2. You’re eating too much unhealthy food
As the saying goes, you are what you eat, and that applies to our bodies and our minds.
And a healthy diet really does help with mental wellbeing.
“Meta-analysis done across ten different countries showed that a diet with high intake of fruit, vegetables, fish, whole grains, olive oil and low-fat dairy, was associated with a decreased risk of depression,” says Jess.
“Research has also shown that individuals with a high intake of ‘unhealthy foods’ (high in saturated fats, low fibre, little fruit and veg), with a lower nutrient-density, are associated with smaller left hippocampal volume.
“This is the area of the brain that is connected to stress, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.”
While the reasoning as to why these foods decrease the size of this area of the brain are not yet clear, but it is clear that a well balanced diet, and limited intake of junk and processed foods, can support your brain and mental health.
3. You’re short on protein
We know protein is important for muscle health, but did you know it’s also vital for brain health?
“Protein intake has been seen to link to high levels of dopamine, which control mood regulation within the brain,” says Jess.
“Protein consists of amino acids which help the body to rebuild muscle fibres.
“Some amino acids cannot be produced naturally in the body, so we need to supplement them through food or vitamins.”
The recommendation is roughly 45g of protein a day for women, and 55g for men.
4. You’re not getting enough kip and keep waking up
Feel shattered? You’re not alone, but it could be a sign your mental health is under duress.
“Despite often feeling tired throughout the day, many highly stressed people have difficulty getting off to sleep or staying asleep through the night, which can have a huge impact on mental health,” says Jess.
“Getting a second wind of energy just as you should be going to bed is a classic sign that our adrenal glands – which control our stress response – are struggling.
“Stress hormones can cause hyperarousal, upsetting the balance between sleep and wakefulness.
“This creates a vicious cycle, as stressful situations are much more difficult to cope with when you are tired, leading to further stress.”
5. You’re not eating enough fish
Are you getting enough omega-3?
This vital nutrient affects brain health and mental health as a result.
It’s found in oily fish, flaxseed, walnuts and olive oil.
“Cell signalling and structure of cell membranes within the brain are changed by omega-3 fatty acids which can act as an antidepressant,” says Jess.
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“Research within this area is growing and is showing positive effects with using omega-3 fatty acids to help treat depression and bipolar related depression too.”
She adds: “If you do not eat oily fish two to three times per week or take on high levels of plant-based sources in the form of flaxseed, olive oils etc, it may be worth supplementing or even better, trying to increase these whole food forms into your diet more often.”
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