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Part 1 - The core pillars of supporting your mental health and wellbeing

Mindfulness, Mind, Body, Soul Wellness & Healing | Counsellor & Mental Health and Wellbeing Coach in Newcastle Australia

I’m really wanting to go back to the very basics of supporting our mental health and wellbeing. And with that in mind, over my next two blog posts, I’m going to be discussing the 7 core pillars of mental health and wellbeing.

These are things that I personally prioritise in my own life, I ensure it’s prioritised in my family’s lives and I encourage all of my clients to prioritise in their lives too.

I’m going to share some pretty outstanding stats with you throughout a few of these pillars too. And in all honesty, a lot of this stuff can seem somewhat obvious, but it’s also the first things we let slip when we’re having an off day or week.

Before we get into going through each pillar, I do want to mention that this is something I explore in depth with clients but I’ll just be touching on them briefly on my blog because as individuals, we all do have such different lifestyles that will impact these pillars so the information on my podcast is just general and not personalized in any way to you.

Okay so before we get into the pillars, let’s chat about the mind-body connection.

I'm sure we've all heard that exercise is good for our mind, but the connection of our mind and body is much deeper than that.

While the mind and body are often treated as two seperate parts of us, they are incredibly connected. A lot of people refer to this as the mind-body connection.

Our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and attitudes directly affect our biological function either positively or negatively. On the flip side, how we care for our physical body impacts our mental state. The mind-body connection goes both ways but when seeking therapy for our mental health, a lot of therapists usually skip over this part. I wanted to share a couple of examples of the mind-body connection with you so that you can get a quick and easy look as to how they’re connected.

Body to mind:

If we have a well-balanced diet, we're going to feel energised and good within our bodies. This will improve our gut-health and in return, help serotonin to work properly as it mostly housed within our gut.

Mind to body:

If our body is under chronic stress, it will be putting our sympathetic nervous system under intense pressure which can cause hormonal imbalances, lower serotonin levels and possibly even damage our immune system. Chronic stress can also cause fatigue, muscle tension, digestive issues, and migraines.

While there are still plenty of studies to do and things to explore, there's no doubt that taking care of our physical health is going to positively impact our mental health, and vice versa.

Now, let’s dive into the pillars!

Nourishment: water intake and food.

We're starting at the real basics! Your water intake.

A large study of 3327 adults found that people who drink five cups or more of water per day were at a lower risk of depression and anxiety. In comparison, people who drink two cups or less doubles the risk!

Researchers have also found that when we drink lots of water and then stop drinking as much, we may feel less calm, content and more stressed.

Another study showed that less than ideal emotions such as confusion, tension, anger or frustration were found to increase with dehydration. Fatigue is also more likely to be experienced.

Our brain is made up of around 75% of water, so when we're dehydrated, our brain won't produce as much energy or serotonin. Dehydration can also change our brain structure, causing our brain to slow down and then not function as it should.

As well as the above, when we are dehydrated, our body goes into survival mode and we feel more anxiety. Serotonin would usually calm us down however our brain isn't able to function properly when we're dehydrated so we're creating less serotonin.

There is evidence showing that water and dehydration is directly connected to our mental health issues, but if I'm being transparent, it is only a piece of the puzzle, but the more pieces we have, the larger picture we have to work off of.

Growing up, I was always told I should drink around 8 cups of water per day, but a lot of questions can arise from this. How big are the glasses? Should a 55kg woman have the same amount of water as a 110kg man? What about days where we're in the sun and exercise? All valid questions and I hear you!

The Australian Government recommends around 2L of water for women and 2.5L for men. If you are exercising, in hot weather, or breastfeeding, it is usually recommended to increase your water intake. There are also certain medications that require extra water, so I recommend chatting with your doctor to be sure.

The quality of water in Australia is certainly a lot better than other countries, however through my studies and personal experience, filtered water offers incredible benefits.

I recently went to a specialist to discuss a minor surgery, he had a copy of my medical history and told me he had the answer to all of my problems... changing to filtered water.

In my time, I had heard and read this myself but mostly ignored it, but after this big claim, I wanted to test things out for myself. Turns out, he was right.

All of my symptoms were improving within a few weeks when I simply swapped to drinking filtered water. My brain fog, exhaustion and afternoon crashes all gone. My dry skin and hair loss resolved and my biggest, long-standing concern of chronic constipation also resolved.

Similarly, to water, we all know we should be eating healthy, but I know a lot of us aren't really prioritising it as we should be.

If we think about how much work our brains do, chances are we will feel very tired! Our brain is always on and always working for us. The foods we eat act as a 'fuel' for our brain, so the type of food we eat makes a huge difference.

Eating high-quality nutritious foods filled with loads of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals will nourish our brain and will positively impact the structure and function of our brain, along with our mood.

Put simply, a well-balanced diet will help us think more clearly, and improve concentration and our attention span.

A less than ideal diet can cause fatigue, impaired decision making and may even lead to stress and depression.

Eva Selhub at Harvard Health has written some information on the link between our food and mental health, including the following paragraph. Studies have compared "traditional" diets, like the Mediterranean Diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical "Western" diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet. Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and to contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. They are also void of processed and refined foods and sugars, which are staples of the "Western" dietary pattern. In addition, many of these unprocessed foods are fermented, and therefore act as natural probiotics.

Now in regards on what we should eat, I don't think it's possible for me to provide a one-size-fits-all diet here. I believe we need to take time and determine how different foods make us feel. Spend a few weeks testing the waters and paying attention to how your body reacts to certain foods.

As a general basis, the following foods are great to eat for your mental health:

  • Fruit and vegetables

  • Wholegrains

  • Lean meats, fish and eggs

  • Nuts, seeds and legumes

Movement: gentle, regular exercise

Movement is the same as exercise. However I prefer to use the term movement because of what society has defined exercise as.

Exercise is defined as "activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness". Which to me is things like running, weightlifting and spin classes, which isn't how I would define movement.

My definition of movement is "an activity that involves the physical aspect of our bodies and that feels good." For me, this looks like slow walks around my neighbourhood, kicking the ball with my kids, yoga, simple stretching and dancing around at home.

Though admittedly, higher intensity exercise can be more beneficial for some people's mental health.

Movement (and exercise) has loads of benefits for not only our physical health, but our mental health too.

Many, many studies have shown that movement is proved to reduce anxiety and depression. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood and also offers a time and place to take your mind off of everything happening in day-to-day life.

Moving your body regularly can benefit you by:

  • Increasing your confidence

  • Allowing more social interaction

  • Providing a healthy coping mechanism

  • Helping you feel better

  • Lowering the risk of illnesses

Regular movement can also help you to sleep better, which is actually our next pillar. It can increase energy levels and reduces skeletal muscle tension.

The age-old question... how much movement should we be doing?

In Australia, it's recommended that adults are active most days with between 2.5-5 hours of moderate activity per week or 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous activity per week.

In saying this though, any exercise is better than none and depending on the season of life you're in, maybe there is only time for one workout a week at this stage and that's okay. Find what is going to work for you now.

Remember that activities such as playing with your kids, cleaning the house or simply stretching is considered movement and has beautiful benefits too.

Sleep: quality sleep

Getting quality sleep is life changing. Just like charging our phones, we need to recharge and reset our brains to be able to function properly.

There's a very close relationship between sleep and mental health. Poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health, but mental health can also negatively impact your sleep.

Our brain activity increases and decreases throughout different sleep cycles.

In NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, our brain activity is typically quite slow with some quick bursts of energy.

In REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, our brain activity is usually quite rapid. This is when we're usually having intense dreams.

Both stages of sleep play a role in our brain health and helps with better thinking, learning and memory. Recent studies have also shown that brain activity during sleep has a big impact on emotional and mental health.

Quality sleep and usually during REM sleep, our brain processes emotional information. It tries to remember and evaluate thoughts and memories. Lack of sleep negatively impacts and can even be seen as harmful to processing positive emotions too.

This can directly impact our mood and has been connected to mental health issues as well as their severity.

While there is more research needed in this area, there is a lot of evidence showing the link between sleep and mental health.

Here are some ideas to help improve your quality of sleep:

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking in the evening

  • Dim the lights and stop using your phone or TV one hour before bed

  • Block out excess light and sounds

  • Create a night-routine that you enjoy

  • Meditate before bed

  • Try to sleep the same amount each night

Environment: fresh air + sunshine

There are lots of ways spending times outdoors is beneficial for your mental health. It can:

  • improve your mood

  • reduce feelings of stress and anger

  • help you to relax

  • improve your confidence and self-esteem

  • reduce loneliness

  • help you reconnect to yourself

Research is continually proving that the benefits are often related to how our senses help us to connect to the environment around us.

Before moving on, I thought it would be important to note that spending time outdoors doesn't refer only to exercise. It can also refer to things such as:

  • gardening

  • playing with pets or children outside

  • going to the beach

  • kayaking

  • go to a sports game

A study in Japan included 155 people, 37% of which had depressive tendencies. Researchers have shown that after spending time outdoors, people with symptoms of depression scored significantly higher on the mood tests than they had before spending time outdoors (ultimately showing that they were happier). Studies have shown that being in nature can restore and strengthen our mental capacities, increasing focus and attention.

Researchers have also found that spending time outdoors boosts our physical health in a number of ways, while also lowering stress hormones and cortisol.

I know there has been a lot of info shared today, and I really hope I didn’t overload you! The basics is where we all need to start when we want to support our mental health and wellbeing, and the core pillars are the basics.

If you would like to dive deeper and work with me, please free to reach out or book a session!

With love & support,

Shorina | Mindful Soul Collective

Counsellor & Wellbeing Coach



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