Depression, anxiety, stress and suicide have replaced cancer, diabetes and heart disease as the focus for governments and health professionals globally. They are no longer looked on as diseases of the western world or of affluence, but are increasingly being cited and researched within the African context due to the impact they are having on society at large. The medical field is looking towards holistic solutions for mental illness as more and more people become dependent on prescription drugs.

So here are a few holistic options for a healthy mental state:

Nutrition is often discussed in terms of physical health, however a nutritious diet is complicit to maintaining a healthy mental state. An unbalanced diet that does not contain enough nutrients will not provide the body with the right amount of energy to work at capacity or the right vitamins and minerals for healthy functioning cells. Deficiencies in the diet can lead to a multiplicity of mental health disorders from depression to Alzheimer’s disease, while a diet rich in Iron and Vitamin B is often encouraged to improve mood and mental capacity.

Most, adults require approximately 6 – 8 hours of sleep per night. Healing and waste removal from cells are accelerated during the sleep state and as such regeneration is hastened. Some people attempt to trick their tired bodies by running on coffee, sugar and energy drinks to stay awake,
but the negative long-term effects on the body’s circadian rhythm and homeostasis have been linked to reduced mental capacity and can lead to burn out. To prevent sleep deprivation, build a timetable that allows you to fit a suitable number of sleep hours into your day, this may require getting to bed early or building a nap or siesta into your schedule. Don’t wait till you have broken down to take breaks or focus on long vacations as
the only time to rest and recoup, utilize early mornings, evenings and weekends as time for harvesting positive energy through activities you find fun, relaxing and fulfilling.

Nature has great restorative and regenerative powers, so building in time to regularly get outdoors can be built into your schedule as health-promoting activities. Just as the natural environment can affect your mental health so too can the built and lived environment and one
of the biggest culprits of poor mental health is clutter. In Feng Shui, a Chinese system aimed at harmonising people with their environment, it is believed that there is an invisible string that ties every single item you own to you. The more items you possess the more weighed down you are believed to be.

The KonMarie method of arranging space by Marie Kondo is a great way to rid your
environment of excess ‘stuff’. Kondo says that we hold onto things for one of two emotional reasons, “the fear of the future or to preserve the past,” symptoms often attributed to anxiety and depression. By only keeping items that ‘spark joy’ within you, you create an environment that you enjoy inhabiting and a mindset shift from focusing on fear to love.

Once we have worked on the basics of
maintaining and improving our mental health we can look at issues around our
mindset. Traditionally our education systems do not provide training in mindfulness, resilience, gratitude and compassion; however studies show that they are important indicators of a healthy mind. At Sound Mind Africa we
teach mindfulness-based workshops that introduce many of the positive mindsets and practices through meditation, colouring, affirmations and positive psychology.

Cultivating a sense of belonging at home and in our places of work or educational institutions provide an important role in boosting our mental health. Religious organisations also serve to promote mental health by providing a place for community, prayer and support. The effect of feeling like one belongs and building strong relationships not only improves our mood and mental strength but has also been found to prolong lifespan. Developing a mentally healthy lifestyle involves the consideration of all aspects of life, focusing
first on the basic areas of health promotion such as sleep, environment and nutrition and then developing a protective mindset and building relationships. Practicing these methods will also help to maximise the effects of medication and treatments available where required. A complete overhaul of one’s life is not required, however small changes to your daily activities or routines have the power to improve overall health and lead to a healthy, happy and productive mind.

This article was first published in the Genevieve Magazine May Issue, which is focused on Mental Health. For more interesting articles, click HERE to purchase.

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