Our lives are so hectic that sometimes we look for anything that can help us cope. A busy, stressful life can not only affect you mentally, it can also begin to reduce your body’s defenses against disease and invading organisms. While reducing stress levels can go a long way in helping us manage our day-to-day lives, sometimes it’s more than just stress we have to deal with.
How to Improve Your Mental Health
In order to improve your mind, you must work in conjunction with your body. Everything is connected when it comes to health, and you simply can’t correct one aspect of your self and neglect the other. Here are 8 ways to improve your mental health that will also improve your overall energy and well being.
Do you find yourself constantly putting off your exercise routine? Think about this: studies suggest aerobic activity—things like jogging, walking, cycling, and even gardening—can reduce feelings of anxiety or depression, improve mood, and raise self-esteem.  That sounds like a great reason to start back with that shelved plan!
2. Stop Consuming Caffeine
Sometimes, we drink something with a little caffeine to give us a boost; but please don’t forget, caffeine is a drug, and the “safe” dosage varies widely from person to person.  A stimulant that triggers alertness at low doses, high doses can cause anxiety and irritability; too much can prove toxic, even deadly.  With so many other options available, why not just cut caffeine from your diet altogether?
- Don’t Drink Alcohol
A recent study suggests a link between alcoholism and anxiety disorders like PTSD. While drinking heavily can put a person at a higher risk for a car accident or an act of violence, heavy alcohol can actually rewire the brain, making it harder to recover mentally from a traumatic experience.  While the research is still new, it seems heavy drinking could increase anxiety, so why not avoid alcohol completely?
- Quit Smoking
Recent research suggests smoking is actually a very damaging mental activity: smokers who successfully quit were polled six months after and all reported lower levels of depression, anxiety, and overall stress levels as compared to before. The effects on the former smokers’ lives were actually comparable to that of antidepressants. 
- Breathe Clean Air
It seems air pollution can play a role in our mood. Recently, the American Psychological Association commented “evidence is mounting that dirty air is bad for your brain […] that high levels […] may damage children’s cognitive abilities, increase adults’ risk of cognitive decline, and possibly even contribute to depression.”  But it’s more than that: this could even start before birth, with an unborn child’s exposure to air pollution possibly leading to memory or attention problems later in life. 
For some, it might seem like an obvious conclusion, but meditation—especially mindfulness meditation—could be a wonderful way to feel better mentally. A recent report from Johns Hopkins University pointed to 47 studies that suggest it’s a good way to relieve stress, anxiety, or depression.  This is great news because in the past there have been very few scientific studies done on the subject.
- Dig in the Dirt
Just about everyone has heard gardening can be relaxing, but did you know a little dirt might be just what you need? Initial research suggests certain bacteria in soil can actually influence our moods for the better and in much the same way as antidepressants.  Regardless of science, sometimes it just feels good to dig in the dirt, doesn’t it?
8. Steer Clear of Pesticides
No one wants pesticides used on their foods; unfortunately, it happens all the time. There’s even worrying evidence suggesting that prolonged exposure can affect your mental health. A recent report examined the link between a depression diagnosis in farmers and specific pesticides: “those who used organochlorine insecticides were up to 90 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with depression than those who hadn’t used them. For fumigants, the increased risk was up to 80 percent.”  Like caffeine and alcohol, pesticides should probably be avoided.
Living an uncluttered, unrushed, natural lifestyle is a good way to nip the sources of anxiety before they start. There are also a number of herbs that support mental health. Also, look into starting a yoga and/or meditation practice to help center your thoughts and balance your mind. It only takes 10 minutes a day to start seeing results.
How do you stay sane? Leave a comment below.
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- Beard, John et al. Pesticide Exposure and Depression among Male Private Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives. 122 (9).
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