• For Better Mental Health: Eat, Sleep, Move

    If you talk to a therapist about anxiety or depressed mood, it’s likely they’ll point to three primary behaviors that can have a big impact: eating, sleeping and exercise. Lack of rest, poor nutrition and inactivity can feed depression and anxiety. And while there are certainly other factors that can also affect mood, these three are much like the foundation of a house. If someone isn’t sleeping and eating well, how can we expect them to have the energy to get through a workday and meet family obligations, much less explore their internal world in a therapy session?


    Why eat, sleep, move? All three have been shown to improve brain function and distress tolerance. Plus, we often have a certain amount of immediate control over them.


    Eat. I’m not a nutritionist, so consult your medical provider about your particular dietary needs. But, if you’re eating irregularly, you may not be fueling your brain and body consistently. After all, you wouldn’t skip putting gas in your car when the tank is running on empty and expect to “push” it through a long drive. So why do that to yourself? Nutrition feeds all parts of the body, including the brain. And the brain requires a lot of energy to function at peak performance, which is exactly what you need it to be doing to work on changing your thoughts, mood and behavior when you’re feeling down. Fill your “tank” with premium gas — protein, vegetables, fruits — not short-term fuels like sugar and definitely don’t rely on “energy drinks.” I always have healthy snacks around my office like nuts, berries, hummus and raisins. However, if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, it’s critical to get professional guidance in this area.


    Sleep. This area is also challenging, as anxiety and depression can negatively affect sleep. A fatigued brain gets overwhelmed more easily, which in turn can exacerbate insomnia and mood disorders. But there are things you can do to improve sleep and interrupt this self-destructive cycle. The practice of good sleep habits is called “sleep hygiene.” Some basics include avoiding caffeine during the second half of your day; meditating prior to sleep; avoiding electronic devices late at night; using the bed only for sleep and sex; getting some exercise but not right before bedtime; and keeping your sleep environment cool and dark. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something that doesn’t involve bright light or excessive stimulation such as reading something relaxing, meditating or even coloring (adult coloring books have gotten quite popular).


    Move. Light exercise has been found to correlate with better sleep. Walking 20 minutes produces the endorphin associated with positive feelings and helps reduce cortisol — a hormone associated with stress. And movement doesn’t have to mean heavy exercise at the gym or even jogging. It could be dancing, gardening or simply doing a few yoga poses. Find the movement that feels good to you and integrate it into your routine.


    If you’re experiencing mild anxiety or depression, try some of the ideas above. But if you’re still feeling out of sorts, I encourage you to find a qualified therapist to assist you. If desired, you can reach me via email or call 407-579-2070 for a complimentary consultation.


    Therapy services available via Telehealth.