Mental and physical health aren't two separate things. You're one whole person, body and mind. If your mental health isn't great, you can get physical symptoms like pain or immune issues. If your physical health is poor, you may struggle mentally too. To build a healthy mind, you'll need to take care of you.
Your body and mind are linked – they're both a part of you. To help your brain heal, you'll need to take good care of your physical health. A healthier, more powerful body creates brain pathways that you need to fight back against depression and anxiety. Here are some things you can try to build a stronger body and mind.
It's hard to think of moving when you're exhausted and overwhelmed, but even five minutes a day helps to strengthen healthy brain pathways and gives you a boost of energy.
Depression and anxiety are linked to poor sleep, so you may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much or too little. Regular, healthy sleep is one of the best things you can give to your body and your brain. Sleep is healing, and we don't function very well without it.
Sometimes depression and anxiety make you lose your appetite entirely. Other times, your hunger gets out of control, making you want to eat all the time. Your body needs fuel to function but in healthy amounts. Find balance by setting regular mealtimes, avoiding snacks between meals, and eating at least something at each meal. Moving every day might also help your appetite.
A Mediterranean diet with olive oil and nuts helps improve mental health in some people. But the most important dietary advice is to eat healthy, balanced meals whenever possible. If you're too tired to cook, grab salads, or whole fruits and veggies, and consider buying prepared meals sometimes until you get more energy.
Alcohol is a depressant – not something you want to put in your body if you're hoping to feel less depressed. Many treatment clinics encourage their patients to give it up altogether. And drugs that your doctor didn’t prescribe could react badly with current medications, or change brain functioning in ways that counteract your treatment. Talk to your doctor before starting any new medications.
Talking to friends online can do some good when there's no other option, but your brain needs in-person community to thrive. On social media, you'll see a carefully curated collection of highlights from other people's lives, and comparing your daily life with other people's highlights can leave you feeling behind and alone. In one study, a group of people showed improvement from their depression simply by deleting a popular social media platform. If you do choose to use social media, be responsible. Choose set times to check in, and log out during other times to avoid endless scrolling. And most of all, include face-to-face connections whenever you can.
Don't rule out exercise, even when you're tired. Start small and find out what works for you.
Depression and anxiety can leave you feeling exhausted. And when even getting out bed sounds like a chore, exercise can feel overwhelming. But don't give up. There are lots of manageable ways to fit movement into your day. Moving your body, even a little bit, is more than worth the effort. Studies have shown that just five minutes of walking each day makes a difference in your mental health. Starting to move, in any way that works for you, is probably the single biggest thing you can do on your own to create healthier brain pathways, build up more energy, decrease stress, and boost positive thinking.
Regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart pumping, increases the size of your brain and helps it create positive connections. You'll enjoy better memory, sharper cognitive function, and decreased stress. But exercise isn't done yet – you'll get another secret power boost. Turns out, moving your body is one of the only things that can make a depressed brain feel good. Scientists state that physical activity "increases positive affect," which is a fancy way of saying that getting your heart pounding can give you the kind of warm, happy feelings that depression often blocks out. Plus, exercise helps you sleep better and reduces depression and anxiety over time. For some people, especially those with mild or moderate depression and anxiety, regular exercise has done as much to improve their depression or anxiety as taking an antidepressant. And whether your doctor recommends medication for you or not, you can still add exercise to your daily routine and reap the benefits. You'll feel better, think more clearly and handle stress more easily.
Any amount of exercise will help. And the more you do, the better you'll feel, which will give you more energy to step it up a notch. Start with whatever you can handle and gradually work your way up to more. Once you can manage 20 minutes of moderate exercise three times per week, you're golden. That much is enough to make a big difference in depression or anxiety levels. And when you're ready for even more, you can aim for maximum benefits with at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping activity, five or more days each week. But remember, you can get there over time. In the beginning, just do something. Walk around the block, dance to your favorite song – anything you add into your day is a start, and getting started will help you to build up energy and motivation for next time. You'll need to keep moving for a few weeks before you notice a change. But once you start feeling better, it'll be worth it.
The best kind of exercise is the one you enjoy – the one you want to keep doing. Try a few out and see what works for you. Researchers have found that, when it's possible, group exercise is better than working out by yourself. Friends keep you company, make exercising fun, and help keep you motivated to continue. But solo exercise still helps your brain. Cycling seems to be the most effective solo exercise for most people, though you may find that jogging or swimming is better for you. Group exercises you can try include: basketball, dance lessons, water polo, hiking, martial arts, rock climbing, speed walking, and any sport or that gets your blood pumping. Sky's the limit – pick something you love, try something new and exciting, or choose something simple close to home, whichever sounds best to you.
Depression and anxiety are exhausting, and we know exercise sounds hard right now. We also know you are stronger than you feel, and every little bit of movement you can manage will help. Set goals you can reach, and get out there!