Expert Advice from Dr Grant Farquhar, Consultant Psychiatrist at Kindred
Bermuda is overflowing with opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle that is conducive to both healthy bodies and healthy minds. Here are ten scientifically evidence-based things that you can prioritise during your daily life in order to benefit your mental health.
1. Stress: Manage It
You cannot eliminate all stressors and avoid all negative life events, but you can pick your battles and manage existing stressors. We can endure potentially harmful levels of stress for a finite period of time after which we will, inevitably, start exhibiting the symptoms of the universal human syndrome that is known as ‘depression’. This is a serious and potentially fatal illness. One in four people will require treatment for this in their lifetime and somewhere between one in ten and one in five people are having treatment for this right now. The pandemic has dramatically increased the incidence of mental disorders. No human being, not even James Bond, is immune to depression. Be mindful of your stressors and proactively prioritise, delegate, or dump them.
2. Connections: Make and Maintain Them
Humans are a tribal species; positive relationships with others are essential for our mental wellbeing. This is critical for the brain development of babies and young children. The most stark example of this are the infamous Romanian orphanages, but the need for relationships persists throughout the age spectrum. Eat dinner together as a family. Maintain contact with friends socially distanced and use virtual means if necessary.
3. Exercise: Do It
There is no doubt that exercise is beneficial for mental health. Be physically active every day. There are no excuses here. You can do a strenuous workout in two minutes without any equipment e.g. how many sets of pull ups, press ups, and sit ups can you do in two minutes? Walk to work rather than drive. Walk up and down the stairs rather than take the lift. Go to the gym. However, the best exercise is to find a sport that you enjoy and become addicted to it. Bermuda is outstanding for many different sports especially water sports as well as the mainstream football, cricket, rugby, golf, cycling, running etc.
4. Diet: Eat Healthily
Unfortunately the diet that we are mainly exposed to in Bermuda – the Western diet – is the least healthy diet in the world for both our mental and physical health. Eat a whole-food diet such as the Mediterranean or Nordic diets and avoid fast, fried, and processed foods. Great Bermuda resources to eat healthily are locally sourced seafood and vegetables, especially sprouts and greens.
5. Sleep: Prioritise It
Make sure that you are sticking to a sleep schedule that ensures that your sleep cycles are occurring normally and that your brain is able to rest, process everyday events and lay down memories. Go to bed early on a comfy bed in an air conditioned room. Avoid caffeine late in the day.
6. Novelty: Is the Spice of Life
Bored? Read books. Learn new things. Do an online course, try learning a new language or a practical skill , try new hobbies that challenge you, such as writing a blog, taking up a new sport, musical or artistic pursuit. There are no excuses here either, you have, literally, billions of potential options available to you on that magic little gadget in your pocket that is called a cell phone.
7. Sunlight: Disinfects
There is no shortage of sunlight, or skin cancer, in Bermuda. However the dose makes the poison and while it’s important to protect yourself against skin cancer, it’s also important to get a dose of sunshine first thing in the morning to inhibit night-time Melatonin production, set the circadian rhythm and improve sleep. The human body also manufactures Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Low Vitamin D levels have been associated with depression, so this vitamin is important for not only bone health but also mental health. Finally light therapy using special light boxes is an established treatment for depression. In Bermuda you can set your circadian rhythm, make your own Vitamin D and receive your own light therapy for free by spending between five and 30 minutes, depending on your shade of skin, in the sun first thing in the morning.
8. Nature: Get in It
While negative environmental factors such as poor air-quality and pollution have long been implicated in chronic illnesses such as heart disease; obesity; diabetes; osteoporosis; mental illness; and cancer, more recently there is accumulating evidence of the beneficial influence on health of the positive environmental factors found in ‘green spaces’ and ‘blue spaces’. The scientific literature endorses the view that these spaces promote health and well being through exposure to nature, physical activity and social engagement. Bermuda, while densely populated and manicured, has abundant green and blue spaces that are free and easy to access. From the well-trodden railway trail to the more remote locations such as Cooper’s Island and the offshore reefs there are plenty of adventures to be found in the green and blue spaces in your backyard.
9. Be Present: In the Moment
Neither the past nor the future exist, only the present. Meditation, for example ‘mindfulness’, is free, easy to learn and effective for managing unwanted thoughts and unpleasant emotions. There are multiple free cellphone apps that will teach you how to do this. No time? You can start by practising mindful breathing for 10 seconds per day. If you are a spiritual person then the meditative practices of your religion, for example prayer, will serve the same purpose.
10. Dream: Big
It’s vital to have plans, ambitions and dreams that transcend your present existence in order to flourish. Be aware of your options and that you are in charge. Everything you do in life is a deliberate choice. You may feel trapped but you are not helpless and you can make changes to your life if it is making you unhappy.
Visit Kindred at www.kindred.bm