Three Steps to Better Mental Health
FROM CARRIE KUBACKI, HEALTH & WELLNESS EDUCATOR, UW-MADISON EXTENSION
Mental health is more than someone feeling “happy” or a diagnosis of a mental illness. Overall psychological well-being consists of the way we feel about ourselves and others and the ability to manage our emotions and our daily lives. Though mental health is a complex issue, all of us can take a few steps every day to boost our mood and increase our overall quality of life.
Step 1: Physical activity. When we exercise, our bodies release stress-relieving and mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins. This is a natural way for us to increase our mental health. When we have the chance, exercising outside in the sunshine also helps us to increase Vitamin D which releases a mood-increasing brain chemical called serotonin.
Step 2: Healthy Nutrition. Eating well-balanced meals, like those encouraged by the FDA’s MyPlate, also naturally helps us to improve our mental health by increasing brain chemicals associated with a balanced mood. Carbohydrates, like whole grains, increase serotonin. Protein-rich foods increase both norepinephrine and dopamine. Finally, fruits and vegetables help to feed our cells, including those that regulate brain chemicals.
Step 3: Proper Sleep. Research has shown that even small amounts of sleep deprivation have a negative effect on our mood and brain function. Continued lack of proper sleep can lead to or exacerbate mental health conditions like depression. Building good sleep habits, like maintaining a regular bedtime schedule and turning off all electronics one hour before bed, can help to improve our sleep.
It is within our power to build better mental health by starting with these three daily steps. Small changes can lead to great benefits for our overall quality of life, and, remember, we are not alone. All of us working together and staying connected can provide hope. For more information on mental health, please visit: https://nami.org.