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The brain

How to improve your mental health

Everything you need to know about mental health and braincare, in one place.

Heights
Heights
July 25, 2021
7 min read

At Heights, we talk a lot about brain health. It’s kind of our thing. But among all that discussion, it’s important to not forget about mental health. If you thought they were the same thing, don’t worry. So did we initially. But they’re not. Connected, yes, but different. If brain health is about optimising the efficiency and performance of your brain, mental health considers your mind, how happy you are, and how you think.

Our efforts to bring braincare to the front of people’s minds means that we can’t ignore mental health. We’ve made an effort to hold discussions and debates about mental health, its relationship to physical health, and how to improve both. These topics aren’t always well-understood. But they’re important. Now more so than ever.

What is mental health?

Mental health has always existed. But for most of human history, it’s been ignored. What we now consider treatable mental illness was stigmatised, with patients locked away with no hope of treatment. It was all very bleak.

Then, in the 20th century, the study of mental health began to get some traction. The work of people like Freud and Jung might now be largely discredited, but it set the stage for a revolution in the treatment of mental health. By the 1970s, Valium was one of the biggest-selling drugs in the world while in 2018, over 70 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants in the UK alone.

All of the science related to mental health is recent—at least compared to medical science as a whole. There’s a lot we don’t understand, and we’re still learning. What’s important is that we talk about it now. We didn’t before, and that’s why it was never studied. Opening up our attitudes towards mental health allow people to understand more about themselves, and to take better care of themselves in everyday life. Maintaining your mental health isn’t necessarily about a psychiatrist’s sofa, or a prescription of Prozac. Sometimes it can be as simple as a change in approach.

Living with mental health disorders, with Stephen Fry

There are few people as well-respected in the UK as Stephen Fry. The author, actor, and public intellectual has been honest (brutally so at times) about living with bipolar disorder. He even won an Emmy for his documentary series, Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive. Oh, and he also takes the Smart Supplement.

We managed to find a moment in his ridiculously busy schedule to talk to him on the Braincare podcast. On this episode, he and Dan discuss what it’s like to live with a long-term mental disorder, as well as some of the coping mechanisms that work for him. They also talk about the best way to approach helping loved ones who are suffering with their mental health.

Listen now

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Step away from the screen, with Damian Bradfield

These days, overstimulation is almost a given. We spend about 9 hours a day looking at screens, often with multiple devices on the go at once. Who hasn’t been guilty of browsing Twitter while on a computer, with the TV on in the background? So, while the weather’s nice, maybe it’s time to cut back a bit on our screen time.

The proliferation of screen time over the past decade is no accident. Big Tech are constantly vying for your attention, which they can sell to advertising agencies. A lot of thought and research goes into making us spend as much time as possible looking at our phones. Of course, the other extreme—a Luddite utopia where we’re all grinding wheat by hand—isn’t ideal either. Instead, it’s all about balance.

We got Damian Bradfield, CCO of WeTransfer and one of the ‘most influential voices in tech today’, according to Forbes, to share his practical tips to protect your mental health, your privacy, and your sanity when you’re online.

5 ways to reduce your screen time

The best diet for depression, with Dr Drew Ramsey

Food—we all eat it. On average, more than 700kg a year. That’s not a long way off a whole Fiat 500. So what we eat matters. When you think of it like that, how can it not?

Dr Drew Ramsey, psychiatrist, speaker, and author, knows the importance of a good diet when it comes to mental health. Food isn’t just about fuel, nor just about pleasure, but also about mental wellbeing. We spoke to Drew on the Braincare podcast about his new book, Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, along with his ideas about the best (and the worst) foods for mental health.

Listen now

How to end mental illness, with Dr Daniel Amen

Every year, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem. The economic cost of that is estimated at £105 billion, while the human cost is incalculable. So putting an end to mental illness seems like a worthwhile pursuit.

The world-renowned psychologist and author Dr Daniel Amen has spent his life advocating the use of brain imaging to study mental illness. His pioneering study in the field has helped develop our understanding of the crossover between physiology and psychology. 

On this episode of the Braincare podcast, Dr Daniel shares the personal story that accelerated his investigation into mental health and brain imaging, and discusses the impacts of brain trauma, toxic substances, and nutrients on our mental health.

Listen now

Exercise and the brain, with Dr Kelly McGonigal

Exercise is, for the most part, good for you. Sure, there are edge cases where you’re better off not overexerting yourself, but in general, the more exercise the better. Intuitively, that makes sense for physical health. But it’s also the case for mental health. Going for a walk or run, doing some stretches—exercise is free and accessible. And these days, it’s easy to find online exercise routines suitable for anyone, regardless of any mobility constraints.

It’s often said that the reason exercise is so good for your mind is the release of endorphins. But that’s only one aspect. We got Dr Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist, Stanford lecturer, and serial best-selling author, on the Braincare podcast to explain exactly what is going on in your brain while you exercise. 

Find out

Tips to improve your mental health, with Nawal Mustafa

Over time, small, regular changes can build up over time. Einstein was famously in awe of compound interest. The same principle applies to looking after your mental health. Small, consistent changes can add up to more than the sum of their parts. Anything too drastic is counterproductive—it reduces the likelihood that you’ll keep it up. It’s all about building a habit.

At Heights, we recognise the importance of building effective habits. It’s important in nutrition, and it’s important in mental health. When you’re struggling, even the slightest barrier can feel insurmountable. So start small, and let time do the work.

We enlisted the help of Nawal Mustafa, a neuropsychologist who advises over 600,000 instagram followers on simple ways to look after your mental health. She explained a few signs that your mental health might be under pressure, along with a few games and activities to ease that pressure.

4 activities for your mental health

She also talked to us about therapy. All forms of psychotherapy are effective, there’s no question about that (and you should always consult a professional when you are worried about your mental health). But it’s not easy to start. Whether navigating a long NHS waiting list, or paying through the nose for private sessions, there are significant barriers.

But therapy isn’t restricted to the psychiatrist’s sofa. That might be the stereotype, but it’s so much more diverse. Nawal encouraged us all to rethink our daily routine and consider ways to weave daily self-therapy into our habits.

5 ways to improve your mental health

There’s no shortage of ways to look after your mental health, and not all of them will be right for everyone. At Heights, we want to put everyone in the best position possible to look after themselves, and to look after their brains. That’s why we’re here. To help you feel better, every day.

See what else we’re doing in the world of braincare.

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