“Wellness, is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – World Health Organization.
Wellness is an active process. A process of becoming aware of what is good health and making choices to achieve it. For most people it’s easier to focus on physical health. Problems with physical health are more obvious than poor mental or emotional health. It’s important though that you pay just as much attention to your emotional health. The mind-body connection is a powerful one and should not be ignored. Problems with physical health often have their origin in poor emotional health.
People who are emotionally healthy are:
- Able to cope with and adjust to the recurrent stresses of everyday living in an acceptable way.
- They handle their emotions appropriately and control their behavior.
- They build strong relationships
- They have a positive outlook to life that allows them to bounce back from adversity.
This ability to recover is known as resilience.
War and disasters have a large impact on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. Economic downturns and difficult life events can also affect emotional health. For much of Sub-Saharan Africa, daily life is stressful. There is a lack of the basic services, benefits and rights that the developed world takes for granted. Political instability, insecurity and economic recession worsen the situation. All these conditions cause an increase in anxiety, depression, substance abuse and community violence.
We all need to be resilient!
Good mental or emotional health allows you to cope with difficulties. You feel good about yourself and find meaning and joy in life. It helps you to remain focused, and work productively. You’re able to maintain good relationships whether times are good or bad.
Research shows some key factors for improving mental and emotional health and building resilience:
- Connect with others– “share your burden”. The best way to reduce stress is by interaction with people who care about you and are supportive. Your situation may not change but by talking about your problems, you lighten the load. Avoid social media “relationship building”. It is only a temporary distraction and is not a substitute for the real thing.
- Get active. Exercise not only boosts your mood by releasing endorphins in your brain but it has direct benefits for your physical health. It improves memory, alertness and productivity. 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily is all it takes!
- Manage stress. Deep breathing relaxation techniques are helpful; meditation; get enough sleep; spend at least 15 minutes daily on something you enjoy such as reading, playing a game, singing, playing with your children; Drop activities that waste your time and don’t improve your life in any way; make time for relaxation.
- Healthy eating. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary snacks and other forms of stress eating. Choose healthy stress-busting eating options instead. Green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, beans and fish are all good choices.
- Help others. Research shows that people, who help others feel enriched, have greater self-esteem and are happier. It also takes the focus off your problems for a while.
Tips on dealing with your emotions:
- Express your feelings in appropriate ways – Share them with people close to you. Before they become overwhelming and difficult to control.
- Think before you act – Take a deep breath, count to 10 or even 20; leave the room and get some fresh air; go for a walk.
- Strive for balance in your life –Make time for activities you enjoy. Everyday, write down something that you’re grateful for. Focus on the positive things in your life.
Have you ever wondered why you crave “comfort” foods when you’re stressed? The sweeter, the greasier, the saltier, the food the better! Chocolates, cookies, cakes, donuts, ice-cream, and greasy fried foods – nothing, is off limits when you’re stressed. Of course, alcohol and caffeinated beverages also play a big role in the mix of “stress busters” we’re drawn to.
The human body responds to danger by releasing a hormone, cortisol which signals the various body systems to prepare for fight or flight. Your heart races, your breathing quickens, and energy is made available to your muscles to prepare for action. When the danger has passed, your body is able to shut off this cascade of responses.
Your body sees stress as a danger and reacts accordingly. The problem with chronic stress is that this “flight or flight” response doesn’t shut off and the body thinks it needs energy to prepare for this on-going danger. To provide this energy, your brain signals you to eat high sugar and high fat foods.
In the short term, you actually feel better but in the long term these unhealthy “comfort” foods impact your health negatively. You gain weight around your abdomen, you feel tired instead of energized and in the worst-case scenario, you can develop chronic conditions like depression, diabetes, hypertension, stroke or heart disease.
Helpful strategies to combat stress eating include:
- Identify your emotions. Reflect about what triggers, or prompts, may be causing some of your stress eating habits.
- If you’re anxious, burn energy by going for a walk or dancing to your favorite song; if you’re exhausted, have a soothing cup of decaffeinated tea or a bath.
- Eat slowly and only when you are hungry
- Plan your meals and control your portion sizes
- Get rid of unhealthy foods in the home and don’t buy junk food from the supermarket
Psychologist Susan Albers has some additional tips to prevent stress eating:
- Replace your cravings with healthy alternatives.
- If you’re dying for a sugar rush, eat a small orange instead. Peeling the orange and smelling the citrusy scent creates a “meditative moment” to help calm you. In addition, the high vitamin C content of an orange strengthens your immunity in times of stress.
- If you’re craving something fatty, eat low calorie nuts like pistachios, which are rich in fiber, healthy fats and help regulate blood sugar. Make sure you get the nuts with the shell, the process of cracking the shell slows you down.
- Use your non-dominant hand to eat – if you’re right-handed, eat with your left hand, and vice-versa. It slows you down and makes you more mindful of your food — an important aspect of healthy eating. This is one of the easiest and most effective tricks.
Healthy stress-busting eating options:
- Complex Carbohydrate – whole grain cereals, whole grain bread
- Fatty Fish (Salmon, Catfish, Mackerel, sardines)
- Pistachios, other nuts and seeds
- Black Tea
- Raw veggies
- Low-fat Milk
Develop strategies to calm and distract yourself when you’re stressed. Limit your intake of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, they worsen the effects of stress. Exercise daily – at least 30 minutes of moderate exertion. Exercise not only improves fitness and helps you lose weight, it has the marvelous additional benefit of boosting your mood by raising endorphin levels in the brain.
When you’re serious about losing weight, making the right food choices is probably about as important as it gets. Here’s a general guide.
Gluten, the protein in wheat, has not been around as long as you may think. Many people suffer with this irritating protein. Removing all gluten from your diet will have a profound effect including stopping: bloating, headaches, skin problems, fatigue and so much more. So, no Breads, Pasta, Wheat based sauces etc.
Milk is meant for baby cows not humans. Many people are lactose intolerant and cannot break down the lactose sugar in milk. Milk is not as high in calcium as you may think, there is more calcium in leafy greens. So, no milk, cream or cheese!
Stimulants like sugar, caffeine and alcohol play havoc with your nervous system and blood sugar levels. Sugar is everywhere so beware, if it ends in “ose” it’s a sugar: Sucrose, Fructose, Maltose, Glucose.
Vegetables, now we are talking. Eat as many as you can. Eat with the seasons and try to get a good mixture of colours. Try not to boil the nutrients away, steam, eat raw or add to stews. If you do boil them use the water for soups and sauces. Go organic!
Don’t be afraid of meat. Protein is necessary to repair muscle and a vital source of nutrients. Try all types from fish to red meat, white meat and game. Don’t be afraid of the fat, if its organic you can eat it, just like our ancestors did!
The science for eating more good fat is overwhelming. The body actually produces its own saturated fat, it’s so important to good health. Bad fats are the enemy so only stick to the good fats like: olive oil, coconut oil, rapeseed oil, butter and organic animal fats!
Be Careful With:
Eggs are an excellent protein source and good for breakfast but not everyone can tolerate them. If you can eat them, great! Make sure you eat the yolk too that’s the best bit and utter nonsense about causing high cholesterol. Go Organic! Some people can also tolerate Natural Plain Yoghurt!
Fruit has changed over thousands of years. Today fruit is loaded with sugar and can potentially disrupt sugar balance. Limit fruit to only when it is naturally in season. Fruit should never replace a meal. Limit to one piece per day!
Rice, Beans and Lentils can all be a great source of slow releasing carbohydrate. But just like fruit they can disrupt sugar and energy levels. Don’t overly rely on these types of foods, treat them as a side rather than a main meal.
In our next post, we’ll put it all together to build great meals.
Maje Ayida is a Wellness Coach and CEO of the award winning Health and Fitness Brand, Eden Lifestyle. The visionary behind the popular HIIT Squad, he is also a fitness columnist for a national newspaper, and has made numerous television and radio appearances, educating and motivation Nigerians on healthy living.