Nutrition and the Healthy Mind

Mental health describes a level of psychological well being, how we feel about ourselves and how we deal with life's ups and downs. Sometimes, life presents challenges that throw us off course and cause us to lose focus and balance. In times of struggle, whether it's the stress of a new job, moving to a new home or the death of or separation from a loved one, since all of us are different, we react differently to life. It is often how resilient we are and how we perceive the situation that will dictate how we come out of it in the end.

Nutrition plays are large role in staying healthy and can also help give us the strength we need to get through stressful periods in life.

Be mindful of the next time you experience a stressful event. What happens to your appetite? Some of us slow down, eat very little, become lethargic and shut down. Others reach for a chocolate bar or other processed foods and overeat, finding comfort in food instead of finding that comfort through healthy choices.

Studies have shown that stress can cause chemical reactions in the body that either increase or decrease appetite, which is the desire to eat. If we begin to neglect our diets, incidents of illness increases, resulting in more sick days from work and an overall unhappy state of body and mind.

The next time you are feeling stressed and unable to cope with life's pressures, reach for healthy alternatives to help you through it.

Keep healthy snacks around. We are less likely to make bad food choices in stressful times if we simply don't buy snack food. Plan for healthy snacks and include these in your grocery list. Limit your purchases to fresh produce, lean meats, grains and low fat dairy. Eat locally and organic as much as possible. Share healthy meal ideas with friends and plan for healthy meals with family.

Stay active. We all know that it's more difficult to go outside during the winter months because of the cold winter conditions. Dress for the weather and stay well hydrated. Seek out activities that are offered in the community. For example, Mississauga's Celebration Square offers free outdoor ice skating or enjoy a scenic walk through the Credit River. Exercise releases chemicals that improves one's mood and reduces feelings of stress. If it is still too cold outside to be active, opt for indoor activities at local community centres or the YMCA.

Cut down on Caffeine/Alcohol/Smoking. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks, and cola soft drinks. Caffeine disrupts sleep and makes stress worse. Choose water, herbal teas, decaffeinated coffee, low fat milk or 100% fruit juice instead. Over time, drinking too much alcohol can also cause many health problems. Alcoholic beverages interfere with absorption, storage and metabolism of essential nutrients and also suppresses the appetite. Smoking cigarettes, as many studies indicate, leads to addiction, gum disease, cancer, heart disease, and breathing problems.

Give in to cravings..sometimes. These intense desires to have certain foods that are salty, sweet, starchy or fatty can sometimes occur later in the day, even after you've been snacking throughout the day. Food cravings occur more often in the fall and winter months, while dieting, stressed, angry and/or bored.

Food cravings are our bodies' way of telling us that we are missing something from our diets. If we strive to eat more healthy and balanced meals, our cravings for unhealthy foods will decrease and our abilities to handle stressful situations will become easier.

If you or someone you know is feeling too much stress and you need more information about resources in your area, contact a community organization, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, which can help you find additional support.

Tea Habjan is a LifeSkills Wellness Coach & Certified Yoga Instructor. Employed with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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