By Cassi Stewart, Nexus Primary Health

With restrictions starting to ease, have you learned any mental health practices that you want to continue doing in your new normal?

Have you practised mindfulness, meditation, walks in nature to help support your mental health during lockdown? What strategies have you learned during lockdown to stay mentally healthy?

Here are some valuable tips people can use to continue looking after their mental health as restrictions ease:

• Eating a balanced diet, which means getting a variety of nutritional benefits from different foods, helps support your brain to function properly. Without a good variety of nutrients, bodies cannot function properly.

Here are some nutrients that help support brain function and foods that are high in them: Omega 3 – salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring, walnuts, chia seeds, linseeds. Omega 3 is especially important for brain health as it has been proven to support mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, ADHD and bipolar (Sinn, Milte and Howe 2012). Not all fish oils are the same. If you are going to choose a supplement, choose a mercury-free option.

Choline – eggs, salmon, tuna, soybeans, chicken, beef, turkey, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Choline is required to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps support a good mood, memory and brain function (Blusztajn, Slack & Mellott, 2017).

Fibre – choose wholegrain options as they have a much better nutrient variety than refined options. Choose wholemeal bread, rye bread, wholemeal pasta, wholegrain rice like brown rice or quinoa. A healthy gut supports healthy brain function by allowing absorption of essential nutrients. Fibre also helps to eliminate toxins and cholesterol therefore also supporting good heart health (Barber, Kabisch, Pfeiffer & Weickert, 2020).

Schedule in time with friends, family and the wider community. Getting involved in community activities and volunteering are great ways to be social and meet new people and have been proven to improve mental health (Tabassum, Mohan & Smith 2016).

Getting involved and volunteering also helps to build thriving communities. Visit www.mitchellshire.vic.gov.au/our-region/community-directory to find a community group in the Mitchell Shire.

Spend time being creative. Have you ever thought about learning new painting, building, or cooking skills? There are lots of ways to learn. Your local library has loads of books on painting, drawing, woodworking, cooking and much more.

Check in with your nearest community house or hub to see what classes they are running. Try free online tutorials or ask your friends or family if they have the skills to share, they may even want to learn with you. Being creative can help boost your self-esteem and allows you to practise mindfulness (Slattery, Attard, Stewart, Roennfeldt & Wheeler, 2020).

Connect with nature. We are so lucky to live in regional Victoria with access to so many parks and trails. Studies show that when we are out in nature, our mental health receives a boost. Paired with exercise, think of all of those feel-good endorphins (Bratman et al 2019). Did you know that Parks Victoria has a range of accessible tracks and trails? Visit their website to find your closest park at www.parks.vic.gov.au.

Get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes easier said than done. But by practising a good sleep hygiene routine, people can improve their mental health by managing stress, improving moods and emotions and avoid irritability (Tahmasian et al. 2020).

Some tips include: Limit screen time an hour before bed to allow melatonin (sleep hormone) to increase. The blue light keeps people awake by stopping the production of melatonin as it signals to their brain that it is still daylight. reading or practising mindfulness before bed, switching light globes to yellow lights rather than the bright white lights. The white lights act like TVs, phones and computer screens and disrupt circadian rhythm. Try not to eat too late. Sleep is time for bodies to rest, not digest.

Take time out. Listen to your gut instincts and take a break and focus on yourself when you need it. There are some great mindfulness apps available that can help you relax and recharge, which can be downloaded free or for a free trial. Some mindfulness apps include; Smiling mind, Headspace, Insight Timer and Calm.

People seeking help can contact:

Lifeline: call 13 11 14, 24 hours a day, 

seven days a week; 

Lifeline Text: 0477 13 11 14, 6pm to 

midnight, seven nights a week; 

Beyond Blue: call 1300 22 4636; 

Butterfly Foundation National Helpline: call 1800 334 673; 

Carer Support: 1800 242 636 or 

1300 554 660; 

SANE Australia Helpline: 1800 187 263; 

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467; 

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800; 

MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978; 

QLife:1800 184 527; 

Open Arms – Veterans and Families 

Counselling: 1800 011 046.

• Cassi Stewart is health promotion officer at Nexus Primary Health. Nexus Primary Health provides a range of services such as general practitioners, counsellors and dieticians to support you to live well in your community. Call 1300 77 33 52 to talk about a referral.

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