7 ways to look after your mental health this spring
As winter loosens its grip, spring promises longer days and warmer weather. Take advantage of the blossoming season with these small steps.
With the dark days of winter well and truly behind us, many of us are embracing the bloom of spring and shaking off the shackles of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
And so, what better time to make sure we are prioritising our mental health as a new season bursts into life.
Here are 7 simple ways to help your mental health journey this spring.
Top up on vitamin D
You might have heard vitamin D referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, because not only do we make it from sunlight, but vitamin D can help improve mood, and negative feelings and emotions.
While we do begin to see more sunshine in spring, for many people it’s still a good idea to get extra vitamin D, or tweak your diet to include more foods containing vitamin D.
“We can get some vitamin D from our diet through oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, as well as eggs and foods fortified with it, such as breakfast cereals,” says Ryan James, Vitality Expert and Health and Wellbeing Advisor.
Get set for sleep
The clocks going forward at the end of March can spell sleep disruption for many.
The good news is that with adequate planning, you can head it off. “Get into the habit of waking up earlier,” says Belinda Sidhu, a Wellbeing Consultant.
Sleep hygiene is also important as the days get longer and lighter earlier, Belinda suggests investing in some blackout curtains and removing any light pollution – such as devices – from your bedroom.
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Go with your gut
A winter of seasonal bugs may have left your gut in need of some love. As well as its role in digestion, gut health is linked to our immunity and mental wellbeing so, it’s crucial you look after it.
“One of the easiest ways to improve our gut health is through diet,” says Ryan. Replenish friendly gut bacteria with probiotics, such as “strains of live bacteria and yeast that aim to reach the gut and benefit the host,” according to Ryan.
“Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, olives and yoghurt.” Then feed those bacteria with prebiotics.
“These can be obtained from dietary fibres that can be found in a range of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, including asparagus, onions, leeks, garlic, chicory root, bananas, yams, beans and whole wheat.”
Take it outside
It’s well documented that nature has huge benefits for our wellbeing, from reducing stress and anxiety to easing muscle tension and reducing blood pressure.
“In one study, it was found that those who strolled for just 20 minutes within a park or woodland reported significantly more stress relief than those who strolled in a city centre,” says Belinda.
“Build a simple habit into your routine, like a stroll in the morning before work, at lunchtime or after work. You could also practise mindfulness on your walks, to help ground you and bring you back to the here and now, or a spot of morning yoga in the garden.”
Stretch your green thumb
Allotments are not only a wallet-friendly way to load up on fresh veg, but gardening is also beneficial to both mental and physical health.
“A report in the Mental Health Journal referred to gardening as being able to reduce stress and improve mood,” says Belinda.
Gardening can also contribute to NEAT – non-exercise activity thermogenesis. “This means activities that utilise energy that aren’t specifically exercise,” says Jonathan Kibble, Head of Exercise & Physical Activity at Vitality.
Eat with the season
Spring brings a bounty of nutrient-rich fruit and veg. “Asparagus, broad beans, radishes, spring onions, leeks and rhubarb are just some that come into season during spring,” says Ryan.
Eating a variety will provide you with a broad range of vitamins and minerals. “The benefits of eating seasonally include the quality of the produce, and greater flavour,” he adds.
“The price tends to be cheaper and if you are looking to eat more sustainably, then eating seasonally will also help you to achieve this.” Add seasonal foods to your meals by making a few simple tweaks. “Stir some spring onions through mashed potato, for example, and add beans and leeks to curries, casseroles and stews.”
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Free your fitness
As the weather warms up, head outside to work out.
“You can do anything outdoors. Instead of running on a treadmill, take to the streets; move your cycling from the trainer to an outdoor bike; and change your gym work to bodyweight activities in the park – all great options,” says Jonathan.
Events start to pick up in springtime too, so consider signing up for a race. “Taking exercise outdoors has many benefits, such as increased vitamin D, exploring new places and engaging yourself cognitively as you watch the world go by.”
It’s important to build this into your existing routine, says Jonathan: “Plan it along with other activities you complete on an average week to make it seem like less of an ‘extra thing’ you have to do. Spending family time on a long weekend walk is a great example.”
At Vitality, we’re all about encouraging our members to make small positive lifestyle choices that can make a big impact to their lives.
Want to know how to become a member? Visit vitality.co.uk to find the plan that’s right for you.
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