Seven years ago, I trekked across the country for a new job, and what would turn out to be two of the worst years of my life.
Some of my mental anguish was circumstantial. I was 2000 miles away from anyone I loved. I didn’t make as much money as I thought I would, which led to a brief stint of homelessness. And most of my time was spent in the backwoods of Alberta in -30 temperatures, and no cell service.
That’s enough to make anyone question what the hell they’re doing with their life. But those circumstances weren’t the only thing affecting my mental state.
For example, I spent most of my time in motel rooms, which means I was eating out of a microwave. TV Dinners and frozen taquitos were staples in my diet.
I was working shifts. And not one of those rotating shifts where you know your schedule in advance. I was switching from days to nights and back again without warning.
“Hey Mitch, I know you just slept all night and drank an extra large Tim Hortons coffee, but go home and get some rest. You’re on nights tonight.”
For two years, I was sleep deprived, and my circadian rhythm was about as rhythmic as Drake in the Hotline Bling video.
I also lacked exercise. Long work days in the middle of nowhere made hitting the gym a challenge.
Take a terrible diet, sporadic sleep schedule, and a lack of exercise and put them in a pot. This is the recipe for depression and anxiety.
It All Starts With the Body
For some reason, we think of our body and mind as separate things. If somethings wrong with the mind, we treat the mind. If something’s wrong with the body, we treat the body. But the truth is, it’s all one thing. What you do to one, you do to the other.
So taking care of your body isn’t just about looking great or living longer. It’s about your mental health, and the quality of your life.
But we’re so busy, we choose fast food over quality food. We make up for our lack of sleep with more caffeine. We’re stressed out, dehydrated, and we don’t get enough exercise.
But when we feel anxious and depressed, we go to the Doctor, and he says, “Here, take this.”
Don’t get me wrong. There are some cases of depression and anxiety that require medication. But in most cases, to improve your mental health, we should start by improving the body.
Here are the three best ways to do that.
Feeling sleepy all the time affects your mood, motivation, and emotions. When you go long enough without getting 7–9 hours per night, the world looks a lot gloomier and doomier.
Most often, we don’t even realize our dark outlook is caused by a lack of sleep. We assume it’s our job, family, or current circumstance that’s to blame.
On the flip side, when you get a great night of sleep, the sun shines brighter, colors are more vivid, and everyone seems to treats you better.
Part of this problem is how we view sleep. The trend right now is to glorify the hustle. To lift up the man that works all night.
#TeamNoSleep #GrindAllNight #IfYouWentToSleepBrokeYouHadNoBusinessGoingToSleepAtAll
This is nothing short of ridiculous. Glorifying sleep deprivation is about as cool as cheering on the winner of a slap boxing competition at the high school you use to go to 13 years ago.
Lacking sleep kills your ability to build muscle, and it makes fat loss harder than it needs to be. More important, it changes your outlook on life, and can take you to some dark places.
Here’s how to fix that.
Get Your Rhythm Down
Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock, and it tells your body when to be awake and when to be asleep. It’s also linked to your physical and mental health.
Ideally, it’s consistent and in tune with nature. When the sun goes down, your body begins to relax. As the sun comes up, so do you. But when your rhythm is thrown off, usually from inconsistent sleep and wake-up times, it will lead to fatigue, an inability to sleep, and feelings of depression.
Here’s how to reestablish a rock solid circadian rhythm so you sleep better, perform better, and feel better.
1. Pick a designated bed time and wake up time, then set an alarm for each. Keep them set to the same time every day, even on weekends. Give yourself at least 8 hours between bed time and wake up time.
2. When you wake up in the morning, don’t hit the snooze button. Instead, get up and get some movement. A short walk around the block, or a few push ups will do. Something light to let your body know it’s time to wake up and get going.
3. Shut down all your screens 2–3 hours before bed time.
4. Take 10–15 minutes to sit in silence, and breathe. This gives your mind a chance to file away all the input from the day, and begin to relax. This will also save you from laying in your bed and solving all the worlds problems before you fall asleep.
5. If you don’t sleep well, get up when the alarm goes off anyway. The best way to establish your circadian rhythm is a consistent wake up time. So get up, soldier on, and stick with the plan. Soon you’ll be sleeping deeper, and feeling better.
Anyone who’s ever worked out consistently knows they feel better when they train, and worse when they don’t. But science is now backing this up.
In a recent study, they found that strength training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults.
Brad Schoenfeld (exercise and nutrition researcher) goes so far as to say, resistance training should be considered first-line-of-treatment for those with depression.
Which means while you're in the gym making gains, you're also improving your mental health.
So, it’s settled. Exercise is great for the body, and every bit as good for the mind. I don’t think we need to beat the benefits of exercise to death. The real question is, how to work it into your life?
How to Make It Work
There are as many ways to workout as there are hairs on your head (or back, or wherever). So we won’t go into nitty gritty detail here. Instead, we’ll go over a few conditions that will help you make exercise a more consistent part of your life.
1. The most important aspect of any training plan is consistency. If you love your workouts, you’ll keep showing up. If you hate them, you won’t. So whether you lift weights, swing kettlebells, or do body weight workouts, the important thing is you enjoy it. So don’t stress over “the best way,” and focus more on what lights you up. All styles of training will work, provided you show up consistently, and put your heart and soul into them.
2. A common misconception is, you have to spend a ton of time in the gym every week to see results. This isn’t the case at all. Less is more when you focus on the right things. In fact, the majority of my clients are busy people, and they make great progress with no more than 3 hours in the gym each week. The lesson here is, when you’re planning your workouts, don’t feel the need to pack your schedule with training. It’s not necessary. If you’re focused, you’ll see amazing results with 3 or 4 45-minute workouts per week.
3. This feels like the right time to tell you about The Complete Guide to Optimizing Your Life and Supercharging Your Body. We cover workouts, nutrition, and strategies to optimize your physical and mental health. It’s free, so make sure you grab it.
You are what you eat.
This is one of those statements that’s so true, it’s now a cliche. But as cliche as it is, it’s worth paying close attention to.
The quality of your food dictates the quality of your body and mind. And the quality of your body/mind dictates the quality of your life. So it’s not exactly a shocker that nutrition massively impacts your mental health. And it does so in a couple different ways.
1. Inflammation: Aside from contributing to diseases like cancer, and Alzheimer’s, chronic inflammation also contributes to feelings of depression.
2. Gut Health: The health of your gut is so influential on your mood and social behavior, it’s often referred to as your ‘second brain.’
Here‘s something you’ll find interesting about your gut:
You have about as many bacteria cells in your body as you do human cells. Most of these are in your gut.
Not only that, 90–95% of your serotonin is produced in your gut. Serotonin being a neurotransmitter that affects your mood and social behavior.
Now, the health of your gut bacteria affects the production of serotonin. A healthy gut produces a healthy amount of serotonin. And an unhealthy gut doesn’t. And this is exactly how the health of your gut has such an impact on your mood and emotions.
Here’s how to optimize your diet for improved mental (and physical) health.
It’s clear that there’s no discernible difference between the body and the mind. So, to improve your mental health, start by improving your body. Train with weights, eat quality food, and establish a solid circadian rhythm.
And hey, the fact that the pursuit of a lean, muscular body also leads to improved mental health and quality of life is pretty good deal.