Health Tips: Mental Health
The Psychology of Anxiety
It can seem like some people go looking for trouble. Remember Mrs. Kravitz in the 1960s television show “Bewitched”? She often spied out her window at Samantha and Darrin Stevens to catch something odd going on at their house. She was most certainly looking for trouble.
As it turns out, scientists say this particular trait is common. Our brain processes information in a way that, once we see something that stands out to us, we become focused on seeing it again and again — even when it’s fairly rare. For example, pregnant women often comment on how they suddenly see so many more pregnant women. Homeowners who volunteer for the Neighborhood Watch often look for more crime than actually exists. 1
In this way, the brain is a little lazy. It identifies situations by comparing them to our most recent experiences. Unfortunately, this can be a real challenge when it comes to managing key areas of our life, including medical diagnoses and financial decisions. We look for what we know, which can discourage new explanations and opportunities. One strategy to offset this brain tendency is to mindfully define potential outcomes, preventing our brain from automatically gravitating toward the familiar or expected. 2
For example, if you join a Neighborhood Watch because of a recent break-in, it may be worth defining the type of behaviors worth reporting.3 A stranger walking toward the back of a house may be worth noting but not necessarily every stranger knocking on a front door. If we don’t train our brains to separate rational viewpoints from “looking for trouble,” we could end up living like Mrs. Kravitz.
1 David Levari. BusinessInsider.com. July 11, 2018. “Psychology says your brain is never going to run out of problems to find.” https://www.businessinsider.com/why-your-brain-is-never-going-to-run-out-of-problems-to-find-2018-7. Accessed Aug. 30, 2018.
Eat Your Way to Better Mental Health
There are many recommendations for managing anxiety these days, ranging from meditation and mindfulness to exercise and therapy animals. However, there’s one scientifically backed strategy that is often forgotten: Eating well.1
Despite our food preferences, or what foods we avoid to lose weight, the simple reality is that the average human body needs a healthy balance of sugar, carbohydrates, fats and proteins to function properly.2
When it doesn’t function properly, one of the outcomes can be anxiety. In fact, researchers have linked symptoms of anxiety to physical conditions such as low blood sugar and poor hydration. These symptoms may be managed by avoiding processed foods and foods high in sugar, which can lead to extremes in blood-sugar levels.3
If you crave sweets, be aware that your body processes natural sources such as raw fruit differently than processed sugars, so you can satiate your craving without experiencing sugar-induced mood fluctuations. Remember, there are plenty of processed sugars in the savory food we eat, as well, including such foods as jarred spaghetti sauce. A one-cup serving contains about 24 grams of sugar, which is equal to approximately six teaspoons.4 When you consider that fewer households today make food from scratch, it’s easy to see why more people may experience weight or anxiety problems as a result of high sugar content in their diets.
If you’d like to eat your way to better mental health, and perhaps lose a few pounds along the way, consider the following tips: 5
- Eat regular meals and fewer “filler” snacks
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet, taking cues from the highly recommended Mediterranean diet
- Stay hydrated by drinking six to eight glasses of plain water throughout the day
- Eat less sugar and fewer processed foods
- Reduce consumption of caffeine and alcohol, as they have a strong impact on body chemistry
- Load up on foods rich in zinc, such as whole grains, oysters, kale, broccoli, beans and nuts
- Consume more magnesium through fish, avocado and dark leafy greens
- Pack in the vitamin B through foods like asparagus, leafy greens and avocados
- Enjoy foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild caught salmon
Changes in our lives, the economy and/or the financial markets can all be sources of anxiety. Paying attention to what we eat during these times may help reduce symptoms and avoid poor decisions due to excess stress.
However, always discuss any major diet and lifestyle changes with your doctor first. Keep a diary of what you eat and how you feel to detect any changes that may be attributed to your diet.6
1 Tara Parker-Pope. The New York Times. “How To Be Better At Stress.” https://www.nytimes.com/guides/well/how-to-deal-with-stress. Accessed Aug. 30, 2018.
2 Uma Naidoo, MD. Harvard Medical School. March 14, 2018. “Eating well to help manage anxiety: Your questions answered.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-well-to-help-manage-anxiety-your-questions-answered-2018031413460. Accessed Aug. 30, 2018.
Add Years to Your Life by Sleeping Late
The Centers for Disease Control reports that approximately one-third of adults in this country do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep each night. However, there is good news if you’re not a morning person. A recent study found that adults younger than 65 can make up for lost rest by sleeping longer on the weekends.1
For those 65 and older, there was no health correlation related to sleeping different lengths of time during the week or the weekend. However, the study did find that this demographic is more likely to sleep either less than five hours or more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, but when and how long people sleep usually varies.2