Mental health and your heart

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Looking after yourself can be tough when you’re living with a mental health problem. By taking small steps towards a healthier lifestyle you can improve your overall health and feel better.

What is a mental health problem or condition?

Everyone goes through difficult or challenging times at some point in their lives, so it’s normal to feel worried or anxious sometimes. But if these feelings won’t go away and keep affecting your day to day life, then it may be a mental health condition.

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Around one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. Some common mental health conditions include:

  • depression, which is a long-lasting low mood disorder
  • anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • personality disorders such as paranoia, borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression, which causes extreme and unpredictable mood changes
  • psychosis and schizophrenia, which is when a person experiences an altered state of reality

If you’re worried about your mental health, you should discuss this with your GP. There’s support and medication available to help you live well.

How does having a mental health condition affect my heart health?

You’re more at risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases if you have a mental health condition. The good news is there are many healthy changes you can make to help lower your risk and improve your general health and wellbeing. You can:

  • quit smoking
  • keep to a healthy weight
  • be physically active
  • eat a healthy balanced diet
  • manage your high blood pressure
  • manage your diabetes
  • manage your high cholesterol
  • cut down on alcohol
  • Read more about risk factors and what you can do about them.

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What can I do to have a healthier lifestyle?

Looking after yourself if you have a mental health condition can sometimes feel overwhelming, but taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle will help your body and mind.

  • Be active

Physical activity can boost your mental health. It can release chemicals in your brain which act a bit like antidepressants and can help ease anxiety and depression. This will help you concentrate and leave you feeling better about yourself. Walks in the park, gardening and housework are all great ways to get active.

Try to be active every day. Every minute counts!

Getting active outdoors is especially good as sunlight directly boosts your mood.
Being active can help you sleep better, help you deal with stress, boost your energy levels and give you a routine.
Tips to help you get active:

  • Walk to the shops instead of going by car or bus, or get off the bus a stop earlier.
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Reduce the time you spend sitting down.
  • Get active with friends or family and you’ll benefit from the company just as much as the activity. It’s also a great way to meet people.

Get more tips on being active.

Before you start doing more physical activity remember to talk with your doctor first.

  • Eat a healthy balanced diet

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is important to keep your whole body working well. Your mental health condition may change the way you feel about food. Some medications can increase or decrease your appetite. If you’re worried that the medication you’re taking is affecting your weight, speak to your doctor.

Shopping and cooking can sometimes feel like a challenge when you have a mental health condition. You may lose interest in food or you may want to eat more when you’re unhappy or troubled. These changes can mean you lose or gain weight and that may not be good for your health.

Try not to skip meals, especially breakfast, as this can worsen your mood and make you feel irritable, tired and hungry.

Start the day with breakfast – people who eat breakfast regularly are more likely to keep a healthy weight than people who don’t.

Healthy eating can help you control your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can reduce your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases.

Tips for healthy eating:

  • Try to plan ahead when it comes to your meals and use a shopping list. This will help make sure you’ve got everything you need.
  • Try batch cooking meals and freeze soups or meals that you can eat on days where your energy is low. Find recipes that are quick and easy to make while also giving you the nutrients you need.
  • You don’t have to cut out all your favourite foods to be healthy. It’s ok to treat yourself from time to time.

Read more about healthy eating and check out our portion guide to see portion sizes for lots of different foods.

Eating a healthy balanced and being active can both help you to keep to a healthy weight.

  • Quit smoking

It’s a common belief that smoking helps you relax, however, smoking actually increases anxiety and tension. Smoking can also stop your mental health medication working properly. This means you may need to take a higher dose of medication than if you didn’t smoke. So, when you quit or cut down on smoking, your doctor may reduce the dose you usually take.

If you smoke, the short-term benefits it may seem to give are outweighed by your higher risk of developing smoking-related health problems such as lung cancer and heart and circulatory diseases. Stopping smoking has huge benefits for your health and it’s never too late to give up smoking.

Stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to protect your heart health.

If you’re thinking about quitting or reducing your smoking, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first.

Tips to help you stop smoking:

  • Keep busy to help take your mind off tobacco. Try to change your routine and avoid the shop where you normally buy cigarettes.
  • When you feel the urge to smoke, do something else that you enjoy or find relaxing, go for a walk or do a different activity.
  • Treat yourself. If you can, use the money you’re saving by not smoking to buy yourself something special.

Read more about smoking and the benefits of stopping.

  • Cut down on alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant and can change your mood very quickly. You may drink to help you feel better or deal with the symptoms of your mental health condition, but it may make your condition worse. Drinking too much alcohol can cause a lot of different health problems.

Drinking alcohol when you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition can reveal or magnify your underlying feelings. This is one of the reasons that many people get particularly angry, aggressive, anxious or unhappy when they’re drinking.

When taking some types of mental health medication, you shouldn’t drink alcohol. So, it’s important you check this with your doctor.

Tips on how to cut down on alcohol:

  • Try swapping to a drink with a lower percentage of alcohol, for example switching to low-alcohol beer or wine.
  • Try having a soft drink or water between every alcoholic drink.
  • If you drink alcohol, you should have at least two alcohol-free days a week and shouldn’t drink more than the recommended alcohol limit.

Read more about recommended alcohol limits for men and women.

  • Medication and your weight

Some types of mental health medication can also affect your weight. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about how your medication might affect your weight.

  • Help and support

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. You can find support from healthcare professionals including your GP and by talking to your friends and family.

Source: bhf.org.uk

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