Culture in Mind

Mental health, culture, and ethnicity

4 Simple Steps to Mental Well-Being

The SNAP Program: Sleep, Nutrition, Activity, Personal relationships

Our culture can be overwhelming what with pressures of work, family, bombardment with information, money woes and conerns about our political, economic and social environment. It is easy to see why there are so many discussions about diagnosis and treatment using medications. We need simple strategies to help us keep our minds in working order when it's all we can do to make it through the day. The strategies below are based in scientific research that I am using in an upcoming book. The SNAP idea is mine as I wanted an easy way for people to remember what to do to get on track, stay on track and get back on track with their mental health.

In doing research in the area of bipolar disorder, I have read dozens of scientific articles on mental
health and there are certain themes that are common in the literature. The pieces that go into the SNAP system - Sleep, Nutrition, Activity, Personal Relationships - are culled from the latest science and is briefly outlined below. It is straightforward and simple but not always easy to maintain.

Sleep: I have written post on sleep on this blog and it is one of the most widely read entries I ever wrote: The Secret to a Better Brain, a Younger Face and a Longer Life. Developing a regular sleep routine that may include: calming herbal teas; relaxation/meditation techniques; a dark, cool room and soothing noises or none at all. Disruptions in circadian rhythms put people at risk for physical and mental illnesses. Circadian rhythms are the physical, mental and behavioural patterns that closely follow the 24-hour cycle and they influence body temperature, hormone relases and sleep/wake patterns and also has impacts on the immune system. Getting good sleep fosters alertness during the day. This increases our productivity, mood and our safety. The latter by reducing unintentional injuries such as car accidents, caused by sleepiness.

1Nutrition: Eat regularly and minimize the use of mood-altering substances such as nicotine, caffeine and alcohol which also interfere with good quality sleep (even though they may help you fall asleep). Supplements such as Vitamins B & D, Omega 3 also help with brain functioning, especially in those with mental illnesses. L-Tryptophan2 has also been found to improve mood as it is an ingredient in serotonin which plays a part in depression. (See post on this blog titled: Mood Food for more details). Omega 3s are found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel cod and sardines, and also in flax and chia seeds. Some eggs have omega 3s because they are fed flaxseed. Cod, salmon and tuna are also good sources of Vitamin D. Dairy products and some juices have Vitamin D added to them because it is so integral to metabolic processes that usually get triggered by the sun but places with low sunlight often require supplementation. L-Tryptophan is found in milk and dairy products.

Activity: Movement of all kind and regular exercise keep the mind sharp, fosters better quality sleep and gives you the pleasure of endorphins. Being outside when you exercise improves the benefit of any exercise because it exposes you to fresh air and sunlight which influences mood. The level of activity need not be extreme but it should be regular and integrated into your life. Whether its walking or running, swimming or rock climbing, tennis or hiking, a regular program of movement keeps the body and mind in shape to absorb shocks to the system in the form of the daily stressors of life. Monitoring your activity keeps you on track and motivates you to stay on course.

People: Creating and connecting to a social support network through personal relationships is primal to the human experience. Human beings were meant to connect with people and being with the ones we love make us happy. Throw in laughter and you feel good in the moment and for hours or days later. Sometimes just being around people, even if they are strangers, makes us feel better than being isolated in our own domestic coccoons. People not only make us feel good when we are happy but support us when we feel like we can't cope with stressful situations or are hit a side curve by the journey that is life. Having a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen keeps us from falling into despair or depression or from feeling anxiety. Other people help to ground us and keep us from getting derailed

Each one of these four factors influence mental health on their own. In combination with each other, they provide you with basic tools, supported by science, to keep your mind sharp, happy and calm.

The SNAP program is the focus of Dr. White's book-in-progress. 

1Note: Before taking any supplements, please consult with your health practitioner.

2Sarris, J., Mischoulon, D, & Schweitzer, I. (2011). Adjunctive neutraceuticals with standard pharmacotherapies  in bipolar disorder: A systematic review of clinical trials.Bipolar Disorder, 5(6), 454-65.

Ruth C. White, Ph.D., M.S.W., and M.P.H., is the author of Bipolar 101 and is an associate clinical professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. 

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