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Today, 10th October, is Mental Health Awareness Day. I’ve been exploring the 5 best ways to improve our mental health and maintain a positive frame of mind when under duress. We have been bombarded over the past couple of decades with largely good information on how to protect our physical health and there is a huge industry of superfoods and supplements supporting this. However, we can still tend to ignore our mental and emotional level of being as it isn’t so visible and poor mental health is still somewhat of a taboo to discuss openly.

Improving how you feel psychologically does not necessarily cost the earth and as our minds and body are intricately linked, physical health is likely to improve as a result of looking after your mind.

1. You’re Sweet Enough!

Excess sugar consumption has been linked to physical health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes but it has also been linked to increased risks of depression and anxiety and has a negative impact on learning and memory. Keep checking the labels for hidden sugar and prepare food from fresh ingredients as much as possible.

2. Be Active!

Notice that I didn’t say go to a gym or exercise. Whilst it might be a pleasure for some, I’ve never been to a gym in my life. It’s just not an environment I enjoy. However, being active on a daily basis is what I attempt to do. Physical activity has been shown to not only treat depression effectively but also prevent it too (1) and this is only moderate exercise not full work-outs. Another study (2) found that patients who did the equivalent of 35 minutes’ walking, six days per week, experienced a reduction in their level of depression by 47 percent. This study showed that as little as three hours of regular exercise a week reduced the symptoms of mild to moderate depression as effectively as Prozac and other antidepressants.

3. Give Something Back!

Volunteering your time for a cause you believe in can make you full of those feel good hormones of serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine. A sense of greater meaning to life and increased self esteem has also been noted by many volunteers.

4. Meditate!

Yes, I know there has been Mindfulness overload lately but meditation lowers blood pressure, stress hormones are reduced and positive changes in the function and structure of the brain occur over time. I attempted meditation on and off for years but now have a daily practice which suits me. If you’d like to know more about what I consider to be an effective form of mediation to improve mental well being, my levels of anxiety have dropped considerably, take a look at

5. Get Out in the Sunshine!

Well it may be a bit late in the year but low levels of Vitamin D, produced by the body from sunlight on the skin and to some extent in oily fish, eggs, fortified milk or soya milk, have been linked to more symptoms of depression in a Norwegian study (3) and Canadian researchers reviewed 14 studies consisting of 31,424 individuals that found a strong link between low levels of Vitamin D and depression (4).

Let’s all do what we can to improve our own mental wellbeing and encourage the subject of mental health to be a topic of open discussion as much as physical health is.

1. George Mammen, Guy Faulkner. Physical Activity and the Prevention of Depression. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2013; 45 (5): 649

2. Dunn, Andrea L. et al Exercise Treatment for Depression, American Journal of Preventive Medicine , Volume 28 , Issue 1 , 1 – 8

3. Jorde, M. Sneve, Y. Figenschau, J et al. Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial. J Intern Med. 2008;264(6):599-609

4. “Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis,” Anglin RE, Samaan Z, et al, Br J Psychiatry, 2013 Feb; 202:100-7. (Address: R. E. Anglin, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, St Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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