Do you feel that your mental health has taken a hit during the Covid-19 pandemic?
You wouldn't be alone if you did. The WHO and many medical practitioners have reported that the stress caused by 'lock-downs', worry about illness and vaccinations as well as the huge disruption to day to day life that went on for over two years has contributed to increases in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
Reflecting on this made me think about the difference between health and wellbeing. Health is primarily an absence of disease or injury, while wellbeing is another matter altogether. It relates to quality of life and of course this describes not just physical wellness but also mental and emotional wellness. It's also important to understand that one effects the other - anxiety and depression are independent risk factors for the development of both acute and chronic disease. When you are feeling anxious or experience low mood, you are less likely to engage in behaviours that support your physical health such as exercise, choosing nutritious foods, spending time in nature or getting good sleep. Your wellbeing is influenced by many factors including your environment, your relationships, your ability to manage day to day life, and really importantly, your diet. Of course individual wellbeing is much more nuanced than this, and what one person sees as tolerable another will find overwhelming. Having an understanding of your own tipping point and developing some strategies to keep you on track can improve your mental health and your stress tolerance and that means better wellbeing.
Focusing on wellbeing is a core principle of naturopathy. The body is extremely intelligent and resilient, and when it's provided with the foundations to support healing and regeneration, it will re-balance. Of course that's not always easy in the modern world. The development of convenient, highly processed foods, longer working hours as well as the increased demands on people's lives are all detrimental to wellbeing.
What's the solution then? Having an understanding of the connection between your health and your wellbeing can help you to observe where in your life you need to focus your attention. Ask yourself these questions:
Do I eat a whole food diet with a variety of fresh vegetables every day?
Do I get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep most nights?
Do I have time each week to relax?
Do I have supportive relationships in my life?
Do I avoid harsh chemicals in my home?
Start with one thing - add some veggies to your lunch and dinner, or make a plan to get to bed earlier each night. You could also audit your cleaning cupboard and replace harsh chemicals with low-tox alternatives. Once you feel the difference in your wellbeing you are more likely to look for other positive changes you can make.
There are many nutrients and medicinal herbs that can support your body, and correcting nutritional deficiencies can have a positive effect on your wellbeing by improving nervous system function including neurotransmitters, as well as hormone production. Nutrients such as
zinc, vitamin C, magnesium and iron are all vital for healthy body function. We need to consume them as part of our diet but often people are not eating enough of the foods that contain them. Supplementation can be beneficial to correct deficiencies, but always under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. Herbs such as chamomile, passionflower and withania can calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety. They work by supporting neurotransmitters including GABA and serotonin that are involved in mood and sleep.
Taking the time to focus on your wellbeing will not only increase your enjoyment of your life, it will also improve your resilience to infection and your recovery should you become unwell. It really is the place to start when we talk about health.