Louisa is a practicing Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach operating through her business ENRICHED. Here she shares a guide to managing mental health.

Low mood affects up to 20 per cent of us at any time. When you add to that the challenges presented as lockdown continues indefinitely, it is not unusual for even the most laid-back person to experience feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Wherever you find yourself on the anxiety scale, there are plenty of Nutrition and Lifestyle practices to support emotional wellbeing and build resilience. Putting my STAR guide into practice can help.

SLEEP

We know how powerful a good night's sleep is, however, it is probably one of the first things to be affected when we become anxious.

  • Light – maximise exposure to morning light and reduce exposure to the 'blue' light emitted from devices 60 - 90 minutes before bed. This will support the supply of the 'sleep hormone’ melatonin at bedtime.
  • Caffeine - set an unbreakable caffeine curfew by early afternoon so that this sleep disruptor has cleared your system by bedtime. Instead, try sipping chamomile tea known for its calming effects.
  • Routine – have the same daily wake and sleep time. You might be tempted to catch up on some zzz’s on a day off, however, this will make it harder to fall asleep the next night.

TRAIN

This includes all forms of movement and exercise, known to support mood and manage stress.

  • Plan – set an intention the night before; be specific about what exercise you will do, at what time and for how long.
  • Mix - very intense forms of exercise can overburden an already stressed body. Including low intensity movement such as yoga, pilates or tai chi is known to support the nervous system. Walking also offers the additional benefits of getting outdoors.
  • Enjoy – move in a way you love and you’re more likely to stick to it.

APPETITE

Food and mood are intimately related. ‘Stressed’ spelt backwards is ‘desserts', and too much sugar increases feelings of anxiety so making some diet changes will help.

  • Fat – foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids support emotional wellbeing. Oily fish (salmon, mackerel & sardines) walnuts (shaped like the brain for a reason) and flaxseeds are particularly good sources.
  • Protein – including good quality protein reduces cravings as well as providing the building blocks for the production of key neurotransmitters involved in reducing anxiety.
  • Nutrients – including magnesium rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate will help to calm the nervous system.

ROUTINE

Being out of normal routine as well as feeling there isn’t enough time in the day can result in overwhelm. Making a plan helps to take back control. Try scheduling your tasks under these headings:

  • Essential – will differ for everyone but generally includes showering, shopping, family commitments etc.
  • Work - be clear on your start and finish time, include breaks and stick to the schedule. Setting a timer and working in blocks of 45 minutes can improve productivity.
  • Self-care – schedule time every day to do something that brings you joy. This will help restore inner calm and increase your energy which makes everything seem brighter.

My advice would be to pick one tip from my STAR guide that appears easy. Achieving this will give you a little dopamine buzz and you’ll want to add something else.

Rinse and repeat and before you know it you will have formed new habits to support your mental wellbeing.