The fast pace of modern culture can be overwhelming due to the pressures of work, family, bombardment with information, money woes and conerns about our political, economic and social environment. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the CDC reports that workplace stress has also been found to have a significant impact on mental health. Finding holistic strategies that prevent the negative impacts of stress are integral to the promotion of mental well-being and lower the likelihood of mental illness and the use of medications.
I created the SNAP system - Sleep, Nutrition, Activity, Personal Relationships - while researching strategies to prevent episodes of bipolar disorder. Based on the latest science, these four factors have been proven to influence mood.
Another post on this blog explores in more detail the importance of good sleep. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences 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 improves public safety. The latter by reducing unintentional injuries and accidents as reported by Harvard Medical School.The National Sleep Foundation describes many strategies that promote good sleep including sticking to a sleep schedule, having a calming bedtime routine, daily exercise and avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine.
A 2014 Washington Post article explored the science and sources of ten nutrients that improve mood. These nutrients innclude Vitamins B6 and B12, Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, chromium and folate, many of which influence serotonin which is instrumental in mood regulation. It is also important to 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).
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.
Movement of all kind and regular exercise keep the mind sharp, fosters better quality sleep and gives you the pleasure of endorphins. Findings from a University of Glasgow study in 2012 showed that exercising outside halves the risk of mental distress whereas exercising inside had no impact on mental health. The study also found that once a week is enough to gain benefits and the more time spent on outdoor exercise the greater the impact.
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 with hardware like Fitbit and apps like Moves helps you track your level of activity and monitors progress towards your goals.
A 2005 study found that negative social interactions with spouses, relatives and friends correspond with a higher incidence of anxiety and depression. 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 care about make us happy. Laughter also boosts the benefits of being together. 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.
Sleep, nutrition, activity and personal relationships each have been scientifically proven to influence mental health. In combination with each other, they provide the building blocks for mental well-being and a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
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.