Healthy living

Last updated 08 November 2016 — Last reviewed 10 March 2014

A nutritious, balanced diet and regular physical activity can positively influence your state of mind and emotional wellbeing as much as your physical wellbeing. Some herbs such as St John's wort, lavender and lemon balm may help with mental and emotional health. Also, participating in creative, spiritual and intellectual activities along with community involvement help to balance out a healthy lifestyle.

The way you feel physically has a profound effect on your state of mind and emotional wellbeing.

healthy breakfastHealthy diet & eating

A balanced and nutritious diet including vegetables, fruit and whole grains is as important to mental and emotional health as it is to your physical health.

A nutritious breakfast can give you plenty of emotional and physical energy for the day. It can also help you to avoid the afternoon mood slump which may lead you to reach for a quick sugary fix. The highs and lows of sugary and high carbohydrate foods (such as biscuits, cakes and lollies) can cause mood swings.

Physical activity & exercise

Regular exercise has been linked to improved mental and emotional health including:

  • reduced depressive symptoms
  • reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety
  • improved mood
  • improved self confidence

While it can be difficult for people suffering from depression to feel motivated to be physically active, it can be beneficial – particularly in managing mild to moderate depression or anxiety.

Regular physical activity of light or moderate intensity can lead to a reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms of up to 50 per cent, especially in women. Becoming more active can help to block negative thoughts, distract you from daily stresses and, if you exercise with other people, the social contact can be invaluable.

In a recent large population-based study assessing psychological health and exercise, young women who did not regularly exercise had higher levels of anxiety and/or depression compared to those that did.[1]

Other research shows that walking groups have been associated with lowered postnatal depression scores and improved fitness in new mothers[2] which is likely to impact on stress, coping strategies, confidence and sleeping patterns in a positive way.

If you know you are not motivated to exercise, try things like asking a friend to join you, put your exercise gear out to wear and talk to yourself –"I want to feel better". Make sure you note how you feel after you exercise and reward your efforts with positive self talk – "I'm proud of myself".

Alcohol

Drinking more than two standard alcoholic drinks a day puts your health at risk.  While short-term affects include poor sleep, headaches, dehydration, potential for accidents and mood swings, long-term risks are worse for mental and emotional health and include:

  • depression
  • relationship problems
  • decrease in quality of life
  • dementia
  • inability to think clearly
  • alcohol dependence
  • low vitamin B, zinc and magnesium (which can affect mood as well as physical health)
  • increased risk of some cancers – particularly breast cancer

Herbs & natural therapies

There are many herbs and natural remedies available so it's best to speak to an accredited naturopath to find what's best for you. Some commonly used remedies are:

St John's wort

St John's wortSt John's wort can be useful for mild to moderate anxiety and depression.

A recent study demonstrated St John's wort was:

  • more effective than a placebo (dummy or sugar treatment) for the treatment of mild to moderately severe depressive disorders
  • as effective as standard antidepressant treatment and had fewer side effects

St John's wort should be avoided by people on a number of different medications, including:

  • Warfarin (blood thinning medication)
  • Digoxin (medication taken for heart rhythm)
  • Anti convulsants (anti-seizure drugs)
  • Antidepressant drugs referred to as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor)
  • Cyclosporin (an immune suppressing drug)
  • HIV medication

Because of the risk of adverse reactions between St John's wort and other medications please seek the help of an accredited natural therapist.  A natural therapist would seek to find the cause of mood changes and would encourage behavioural, dietary and lifestyle changes with the use of herbal remedies or nutritional supplements where necessary. Make sure you tell your doctor if you are taking St John's wort.

Lavender

Lavender – the herb not the essential oil – is used to help with depression. Lavender is a strengthening tonic to the nervous system, and is useful for headaches and migraines, especially those associated with menopause.

There are many varieties of lavender; so it needs to be prescribed by an accredited natural therapist to ensure you have the correct type.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm, used as a herbal tea, has traditionally been considered to lift mood. It helps relieve tension and stress and it is easy to grow as a home remedy.

Oat straw

Oat straw 'feeds the nervous system'. It is different to the rolled oats often eaten for breakfast.

Rescue Remedy

A Bach original flower remedy that assists with relaxation.

Whole person wellbeing

Lifestyle and living well requires more than a healthy diet and some exercise. Your involvement in the following areas is important also:

  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Psychological balance
  • Relationships with others
  • Creative pursuits
  • Community involvement
  • Spiritual involvement

It can be helpful to regularly review these areas and give yourself a score out of 10 as to how you think you are going in them. Take time to sit and ask yourself where you want to be in relation to these areas. Do this exercise several times and listen to yourself. If you need more assistance with this you can speak to a therapist.

References

  1. DeMoor et al Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: A population based study. Preventive Medicine. 2006;42:273-279.

  2. Armstrong et al. The effects of exercise and social support on mothers reporting depressive symptoms: A pilot randomized trial. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing. 2003;12:130-138.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.

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