This week is mental health awareness week from 13th -19th May, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK. The theme is body image and how we think and feel about our bodies and last years theme was about stress. Mental health awareness has definitely played a role in people being able to speak about their mental health difficulties, in people seeking help and in others being more compassionate and listening to those with mental health difficulties.
We know that at least 1 in 8 people suffer from a mental health condition, and it’s possible that its more common than we think as there is still stigma around mental illness and in some cultures it’s a taboo. The current trend in society is to be happy and healthy. There is an increase in people exercising and keeping physical fit however the result of neglecting our mental fitness is that people are now experiencing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and stress.
Mentally fitness is keeping your brain and emotional health in tip top shape. It’s important to work on your mental fitness as this will ensure you are able to cope with day to day stresses and it will also help you develop resilience. From my experience and research, keeping mentally fit is key especially with the pressures facing the different generations ranging from the younger generations to the older generations.
The 5 main ways to keep mentally fit are:
Being positive in yourself and having a positive mindset is key in being mentally fit. We can train our brain as we do our muscles when we exercise by changing our thoughts from negative to more positive like we do in CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy which is the psychological or talking treatment in most mental health conditions. Our thoughts, feeling and behaviours are linked and therefore by changing our thoughts and by challenging those negative ones into more positive ones, will result in us feeling a lot happier in ourselves. Expressing gratitude is also another way of being positive. The theme this year for body image is body positivity and part of this is practising selflove and accepting yourself as you are.
The Power of now by Ekhart Tolle is a book I’ve read and recommended to people worldwide as it teaches you about mindfulness and experiencing the present moment with all your five senses of touch, taste, smell, sights and sounds. Ekhart Tolle reached enlightenment and through this book he educates people worldwide about being in the present moment. Increase your awareness of yourself and become more present in your day. You can easily do this by being more present in your interactions with people, or practice this in simple tasks like when washing dishes or when walking up and down stairs.
As a psychiatrist, I recommend meditation as part of being mentally fit and from my experience, the more you practice this, the easier it becomes and eventually its effortless.
Improve your mental fitness by practising one of these:
-Trancendental meditation TM or Vedic meditation was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India in the 1950s. Dr Saniv Chopra, author of the Two most important days, who is also the brother of Dr Deepak Chopra recommended this meditation to me and I’m grateful I did do it. My teacher, Light Watkins, author of Bliss more was trained in India too. He also taught the The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle who said ‘meditation became the quietude that rocked my world’. I definitely agree with her and feel more blissful and happier since doing this meditation twice a day for 20 minutes .
-Another similar, equally good meditation to transcendental meditation, TM is the Brightpath meditation which is based on the principles of gratitude, praise , love and compassion. The founder of this meditation was Maharishi Sadhashiva Isham who was taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who then went to develop this meditation. Having practiced this myself since 2015 being taught by my teachers Saraswati and Arjuna, I experienced huge benefits of happiness, bliss and peace. Theres a movie on this meditation on Netflix called A Mindful Choice, which shows the current teacher Krishnananda Ishaya and was produced by Greg Hopkinson and Sally Lewis.
For those who struggle to find time in their day to meditate, or are not sure about meditation, there are popular apps like Headspace, Mindvalley by Vishen Lakhiani which Ive tried and Insight Timer recommended to me by JW Wilson, a US neuroscientist from the learning code institute.
The saying goes, a healthy body equals a healthy mind. When we exercise as part of physical fitness it releases the feel good neurotransmitter in the brain Serotonin also known as the happy chemical in the brain which also boosts our mood. Keeping physically fit helps us reduce our risk of medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension and at the same time we can also feel a lot happier in ourselves by releasing this happy chemical in our brain. Start by doing a form of exercise you enjoy for even just 30 minutes a day at least 3 times a week, like cardio, running, yoga and pilates too.
Hippocrates said let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food. From my research eating foods rich in serotonin or tryptophan are essential in keeping you happy and are healthy for your brain. The foods that I recommend from my Happy doctors kitchen are the brain healthy foods:
-a protein based diet and foods rich in vitamin B including legumes, pulse, turkey, tofu, eggs , red meat and chicken
– superfoods like spirulina
– green and leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli and avocados
– all berries are brain berries especially blueberries, also bananas and oranges
– nuts like walnuts and almonds and seeds like sunflower seeds and sesame seeds
– salmon and all seafood are rich in omega 3
– chocolate for the cacao
-including drinking plenty of water, green tea, using cayenne pepper, turmeric and getting sunshine
In summary, keeping mentally fit, is as important as being physically fit and healthy. Start by practising these 5 simple ways. You will not only be happier, but it will boost your mental wealth, health and overall wellbeing.