3 Key Elements to Mental Health
Social media has implanted the pursuit of happiness as one’s ultimate goal in life. Yet, how do one define this intangible concept? How do we accomplish happiness?
Following the Americans’ obsession with this pursuit, it is no surprise that Asian countries are affected by this movement too. In contrast to the American culture which values personal achievements and self-sufficiency, Asians perceives collective self as the key to happiness, i.e. pleasing others and fulfilling social expectations. Does it sound too familiar for you?
In 2011, Institute of Mental Health (IMH) of Singapore has revealed that 5.8% of the adult population in Singapore suffers from major depressive disorder (MDD) at some time in their lifetime. On the other hand, approximately 100,000 individuals will suffer from anxiety disorders at least once during their lifetime. Although there are many factors that may contribute to the development of mental illnesses, I can’t help but speculate that the exaggeration of being constantly happy has unknowingly exerted pressure upon people.
If we are to believe that the levels of happiness we experience is also intertwined with our genetic coding, then there is only so much we can do to try and be happy all the time. Rather than pursuing this endless notion of life-long happiness, why not live in the moment and enjoy our day-to-day journey through various emotional states? Here are three key factors that you should consider to improve your emotional wellbeing:
1. Food and Mood
Health junkies will never emphasize enough of the importance of a healthy diet. Yet, they always fail to address a common issue faced by both men and women – food cravings.
A food craving is an intense desire to consume a specific food. Essentially, the human brain is a pleasure-seeking machine, i.e. we are hardwired to constantly seek for reward which gratifies our well-being. Calorie-dense foods such as fat, salt and sugar are powerful reward-drivers which can release ridiculous amounts of ‘happy’ neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine and serotonin) into the brain – activating the reward pathway. Ironically, one does not experience happiness or even any distinctive positive mood improvement after satisfying one’s food cravings. Many studies have found that, in comparison to a healthy diet, there is a higher risk of anxiety and depression when one consumes a diet rich with fried foods and sugary products.
Researchers have hypothesized that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in a healthy diet (including poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables) are involved in the regulation of one’s emotions as well as reduction of neuronal damage – elevating one’s overall mental wellbeing.
Here are a few quick fixes for busy people to cope with their food cravings. One of the simplest methods – drinking water. When the body is dehydrated, the brain will then send out ambiguous hunger signals to the body. As such, you could really be thirsty rather than hungry. In fact, a few studies have found that the consumption of water before a main meal reduces one’s appetite and food intake. Keeping track of your hydration levels may help combat your food cravings.
Another convenient method involves the incorporation of protein into your meals. It was revealed that a high protein diet reduces the activation of the reward pathway in the brain. Consequently, it results in lower eating frequency as well as increased satiety throughout the day, leading to a better appetite control.
Thirdly, meal planning is one of the most strategic approaches to controlling your food intake. As you already have a ready meal, you render yourself with no other option, while eliminating the “spontaneity” factor in your choice of food.
2. Sleep and Mood
Sleep is one of most basic human needs for survival. Every day, our brain receives massive amounts of information. Sleep is crucial to help us process and consolidate these data into memories, allowing us to apply and utilize these information in our day-to-day functions. Apart from that, proper sleep is required for the recuperation of all bodily machineries. Needless to say, sleep deprivation disrupts the normal functioning of the brain, impairing both cognitive and affective counterparts. As such, sleep is closely associated with the well-being of a person; inadequate sleep may lead to mood disorders, ranging from irritability to cognitive impairment and hallucination.
While different age groups have varying sleep requirements, all adults above 18 years of age require 7-9 hours of sleep. Sustained sleep deprivation will ultimately result in the development of mental disorders such as major depressive disorder.
3. Exercise and Mood
Whether you notice it or not, your body muscles tense up as a reflex reaction to stress. Apart from that, the body takes on a fight or flight response, leading to an increased heart rate as well as amplification of negative emotions. Physical exercise is an excellent method to break this body-mind cycle; it releases feel-good endorphins into the brains, instantly elevating one’s mood. In addition to that, the physical motions relax the muscles, removing tension off the body.
Exercise is not strictly limited to intensive heavy lifting or rigorous cardio routines; it can also be brisk walking around the park, gardening or even cycling to run grocery errands. Many may not notice, but regular exercise is a powerful, side effect-free treatment for many mental disorders. Most importantly, it promotes brain health and neuronal activities related to calmness and positivity.
If you have no problems with any of the above, maca may be the next best thing. It also known as Lepidium meyenii, a native plant found at high altitudes of 11,000 feet in Andes mountains, South America. The maca root contains a wholesome reserve of natural amino acids, minerals, vitamin B, C and E, among many other nutrients. It is used traditionally by local Peruvians to improve energy, enhance sexual drives and fertility, even reducing anxiety and depression. Due to its adaptogenic (the ability of a compond to mitigate the response to stress) properties, maca has also been found to alleviate menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and interrupted sleep. As for its psychological benefits, the flavonoids found in maca have been theorized to be responsible for its mood-elevating actions.
Happiness is a choice. Try RevitaliX today!
Written by U Jean Tan
U Jean is a certified Pharmacist. She received her B.Pharm from Monash University.