By Jess Hillard
Mental health awareness is more important than ever. As the cost-of-living rises, so do our work loads and stress levels, which in turn, can drastically affect our mental health. With many focusing on increasing their workload to keep up with the growing demands and pressures of the economy, there has been a significant rise in concerning health issues. Leading dietician Jess Hillard discusses the factors to tackle first that could be contributing to poor mental health.
Longer Working Hours
To compensate for the rise in the cost of living, many are taking on extra jobs and working longer hours. These long working hours can massively aggravate anxiety, depression, and eventual burnout. Symptoms of overworking can be seen through weight fluctuations, constant fatigue, lack of sleep and frequently feeling rundown which all in turn lead towards a weakened immune system. The health issues that coincide with overworking are extensive and can escalate into serious problems rapidly. Studies have shown that those who work 55-65+hours per week have considerably worse mental health when compared to those who work less than 40 hours per week. Studies also found that those who overwork, are at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease (e.g., type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure). This is mostly due to eating habits, stress, relying on alcohol, and lack of sleep and physical activity, all of which can be triggered by the stress of overworking. To help keep our overall health in check and avoid an eventual burnout we really should be limiting our working hours to around 40 hours per week.
Poor Diet Choices
As well as overdoing it when it comes to work, there is a strong link between what we eat and our mental health. Our diet plays a huge role in our mental wellbeing. This is due to our eating times, habits, as well as micro and macro nutrients that come with diet. Meta analysis done across ten different countries showed that a diet with high intake of fruit, vegetables, fish, wholegrains, olive oil and low-fat dairy was associated with a decreased risk of depression. Not only this, but research has also shown that individuals with a high intake of ‘unhealthy foods’ (high in saturated fats, low fiber, and little fruit and veg), with a lower nutrient-density, are associated with smaller left hippocampal volume. This is the area of the brain that is connected to stress, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. The reason as to why these foods decrease the size of this area of the brain are not yet clear.
Something which often gets overlooked when identifying the reasons why someone’s mental health might be suffering is their protein intake. Protein intake has been seen to link to high levels of dopamine, which control mood regulation within the brain. Protein consists of amino acids which help the body to rebuild muscle fibers. Some amino acids cannot be produced naturally in the body, so we need to supplement them through food or vitamins. If you are someone with who struggles to eat enough protein, try incorporating a low sugar, high protein, convenient snack into your diet, such as the Warrior CRUNCH bars or Warrior RAW flapjacks, which contain up to 20g of high-quality milk protein.
Despite often feeling tired throughout the day, many highly stressed people have difficulty getting off to sleep or staying asleep through the night, which can have a huge impact on mental health. Getting a second wind of energy just as you should be going to bed is a classic sign that our adrenal glands (which control are stress response) are struggling. Stress hormones can cause hyperarousal, upsetting the balance between sleep and wakefulness. This creates a vicious cycle, as stressful situations are much more difficult to cope with when you are tired, leading to further stress.
Not Getting the Right Nutrients
A nutrient that greatly affects brain health, corresponding with mental health, is omega 3. This is found in foods such as oily fish, flaxseed, walnuts, and olive oil. Cell signaling and structure of cell membranes within the brain are changed by omega-3 fatty acids which can act as an antidepressant. Research within this area is growing through time and is showing positive effects with using omega-3 fatty acids to help treat depression and bipolar-related depression too. It is worth noting that if you do not eat oily fish two-to-three times per week or take on high levels of plant-based sources in the form of flaxseed, and olive oils etc., it may be worth supplementing or even better, trying to increase these whole food forms into your diet more often.