Take your MEDS!
Psychiatric medications can be effective if you are experiencing a severe mental health problem. For example, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications can increase levels of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (types of neurotransmitters) in our brain, thereby increasing neural plasticity and making thought/emotion management easier. However, the medications can have unwanted side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, headaches, insomnia, and feelings of numbness.
The good news? Simple behaviour changes can also increase levels of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA in our brain, thereby improving mood and attention, but without the unwanted side effects.
So, if you are experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems, remember to take your MEDS!
Stress makes you want to go faster. Intentionally slow down. Pay attention to the present moment. For example, focus on your breathing during your commute. Listen to sounds while waiting in line. Wash the dishes to wash the dishes not to finish them. Savour what you are eating. Cultivate the ‘nine attitudes of mindfulness’: non-judging, acceptance, patience, beginners mind, trust, non-striving, letting go, gratitude, and generosity.
You don’t have to train for a marathon or go on boot camp. Thirty minutes of moderate activity a few times a week is enough. Start with something you enjoy – you are more likely to stick with it. Exercise in nature and/or with others – it has additional benefits. Hike with friends or do yoga in a park.
Low glycaemic index diets can reduce insulin fluctuations and stabilise mood. Cut intake of refined carbohydrates, sugar, and caffeine. Eat more fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, and lean meat. Eggs and dairy are loaded with serotonin.
Restricted or poor-quality sleep causes anxiety and depression symptoms. Aim for 7–9 hours of sleep per night. Young people need more. Try the following: go to bed and get up at the same time each day (even on weekends), establish a wind-down routine before bed (e.g., have a bath or shower, turn the lights down, switch off devices), only use your bed for sleeping, and eliminate daytime naps (they reduce sleep drive at night).
Tip: Try a behavioural experiment – take your MEDS (meditate, exercise, diet, sleep) for one week while tracking your mood and see if you feel better.