Content warning: This story discusses matters of mental ill-health. Please find a list of useful resources for getting help at the bottom of the page.
There’s no better way to put it.
You might be in a dark, cold and lonely place thinking, “I will never feel normal again.”
Or you might be completely apathetic, trudging through the motions of your daily life.
Or you feel great! The world is bright and wonderful; every morning, you’re awakened by wildlife creatures singing to you about how great you are, and rainbows fly out of your butt.
Wherever you are on the scale, there are super simple practices you can implement into your everyday life to support a positive mindset.
These five simple yet effective steps might help you maximise your wellbeing, even if you’re a broke-a** uni student.
1. Create a sleep schedule, and stick to it
It’s no secret that sleep is fundamentally important for our bodies. When we sleep the body repairs and re-energises itself and fights off disease, our brain processes memories and knowledge, and our minds recharge.
Without sleep, we simply can not function.
Whilst it’s all fun and games staying up past 3 am, hitting the town, enjoying a beverage and boogie, or binging that new Netflix show, insufficient sleep significantly impairs our body’s ability to function.
Everyone knows what the following day is like after a lack of sleep. You feel irritable and lethargic, while you may also experience extreme hunger or feel nauseous.
Prolonged lack of sleep can lead to serious physical health issues ranging from heart disease to diabetes and increases the risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and other mental health issues.
On the other hand, oversleeping is just as detrimental to our health as sleep deprivation!
Excessively oversleeping can lead to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and physical health issues including cardiovascular disease, chronic pain and hypothyroidism.
Sleep is important! And the right amount of sleep. Not just for your mental health and well-being but also for your physical health.
Creating a sleep schedule and sticking to it as best you can will improve our overall health and support a healthy, happy mind.
2. Drink … water
Our bodies are 60% water; 70% of our world is water.
Water is everywhere and we need it. Lots of it!
As a kid … okay, until very recently, I would roll my eyes when people would harp on about water and how important it is.
But seriously, water is very important! It carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, aids digestion, flushes bacteria from the bladder, normalises blood pressure, prevents constipation (because who likes being constipated), and cushions joints.
The list of benefits is longer than my Wishlist on Amazon.
One thing about drinking enough water that many people don’t realise is that it helps us maintain good mental health!
Studies conducted across the globe have shown those who drink the recommended amount of water a day (or very close to it) have a lower risk of suffering from anxiety and depression.
There are just as many effects of dehydration on our mental health as there are on our physical health – which makes a fair bit of sense.
Dehydration depletes our brain’s energy and impedes serotonin production, a critical neurotransmitter that heavily affects your mood, and an undersupply of serotonin is a characteristic of depression.
Dehydration also negatively impacts a number of amino acids, resulting in feelings of sadness, inadequacy, anxiety, and irritability. It is also a trigger for panic attacks.
3. Forget the Mie Goreng and eat a carrot
Food is our body’s fuel and what we put in our body is important. That lame old saying our parents and grandparents would persistently chant, “You are what you eat,” is pretty damn accurate.
There are so many physical benefits from maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet: strengthening bones, lowering the risk of heart disease and type two diabetes, supporting muscles and maintaining weight to aiding digestive function and boosting immunity.
As kids (well, at least when I was a kid), the physical benefits of healthy eating were pounded into me, at school, at home, at sports, even from that old ABC show Rollercoaster with the nerdy-looking host called Elliott.
However, I was utterly unaware of food’s significant role in our mental health.
Healthy eating improves mood, helps us think clearly, improves concentration and our attention span and helps us feel more alert throughout the day.
Side note: After HOURS of reading and researching I implore you to maintain your gut health. Seriously, gut health is one of the most integral systems within our bodies, in literally all aspects; physical health, mental health, hormonal health, immune health, all the healths.
So drink a kombucha or grab some probiotic gummies.
We get it; healthy eating is important – blah, blah blah.
But poor diet causes fatigue, impairs decision-making, decreases reaction time, depletes our mood, makes us more irritable, delays brain development, causes nutrient deficiencies, and impairs immune system function. Not to mention an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
Avoid sugars and highly processed foods as they cause inflammation throughout our entire body, including the brain, and can exacerbate mental ill health.
For those of you who are, like me, a broke-a** student, here is just one example of how to eat healthy on a Centrelink budget.
4. Have a break, minus the Kit-Kat
Whether you’re pounding the keys on your laptop in the library, sweating bullets as an assignment deadline fast approaches or you’re copping an earful from your boss in the office as a pile of paperwork grows taller than the Telstra Tower, there is one really easy thing you can do for your mental health.
Minus the Kit-Kat because see point 3.
It might sound obvious, but take a break. Changing the scene and environmental pace is really good for our mental health.
Taking breaks periodically throughout the day significantly lowers stress levels as it allows our brains to recharge and refocus and can positively boost our overall mood.
Depriving yourself of time to recharge, relax and recuperate can lead to general restlessness, insomnia, lower performance and productivity, difficulty concentrating, irritability, social withdrawal, and overall feelings of dissatisfaction.
In the long run, denying yourself time to recharge, relax and recuperate is detrimental to your mental health.
I know what you’re thinking, “Bro, I am too busy to take a five day trip to the coast.”
But here is the thing – taking a break can be as simple as standing up from the computer chair each hour and stretching for five minutes, or taking a ten or twenty minute walk on your lunch break.
You can put aside 30 minutes in the evening to practise meditation or mindfulness or run a hot bath and do some visualisation. You can even set aside an hour before bed to read a book.
There are lots of options available that you can choose from to slot a break into even the busiest of schedules.
5. Listen to Olivia and let’s get physical
For the love of our mental health, we all need to listen to Australian icon Oliva Newtown John and get physical.
While getting down and sweaty with it does amazing things for your physical health, there are also many benefits for our mental health.
People who exercise regularly have better mental health, emotional well-being and lower rates of mental illness.
When we get moving, blood is pumped into our brain, which helps us think more clearly and increases connections between the nerve cells in the brain.
By increasing our heart rate, we can reverse stress-induced brain damage.
Exercise also helps our stress response.
Noradrenaline is released as a physiological response when we experience fear and stress and when we exercise noradrenaline levels are increased.
This means we are actually giving our bodies practice dealing with stress as it basically forces our physiological systems to communicate much more closely than usual.
You’ve been scienced.
For the love of our mental health, listen to Olivia, and let’s get physical. Put aside 30 minutes a day to move your body, whether you go to the gym, do some yoga, or go for a leisurely stroll.
So, in summary, how do we easily reduce the risk or symptoms of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and a bunch of other adverse health effects?
We create a sleep schedule and stick to it. We drink plenty of water every day. We avoid sugar and processed foods and maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. We make time to take a break. And last but not least, we listen to Olivia Newtown John and get physical.
Original photos by Zoe Askew
If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health, please reach out. You are not alone. Lifeline (13 11 14), Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), Menslink and the Suicide Hotline (1300 651 251) are just some of the services with counsellors offering 24-hour support. Mental health challenges can be scary and isolating but there are people who care and who can help.