Dossier: Strong mind

How to be mentally strong

Whether it takes only a slight breeze or gale-force winds to throw someone off track depends on a number of factors. Scientists claim that our genetic make-up is only part of it. We are not totally powerless.

Text: Julie Freudiger; photo: Matthew Ball / Unsplash

Healthy sleep

We need sleep for physical regeneration, a strong immune system and to keep our energy levels up. If we don’t sleep enough, our mood suffers and we find it difficult to make decisions. Studies show that lack of sleep also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. And people with sleep disorders are also more likely to suffer from depression. Getting enough sleep – most adults need between 7 and 8 hours a night – is a key element in being mentally strong. You can improve your quality of sleep by going to bed and getting up at the same time, eating a light meal in the early evening, getting more exercise during the day, and switching off your smartphone, tablet and PC one hour before going to bed.

Calmer through meditation

Long considered to be esoteric, meditation is now a firmly established trend. Studies show that meditation helps against stress and anxiety and can help ease depression. Changes can be seen in the brain after just eight weeks of mindfulness training. In fact, a study by the Max-Planck Institute has shown that certain types of meditation can even reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol by up to 50%. Perseverance pays off, with a lasting effect occurring over time and by practising meditation regularly. Meditation apps can help.

Food for the mind

Food is more than just fuel for our body. Studies show that fruit and vegetables improve mental well-being, vitality and motivation. For example, antioxidants in fruit protect the body against free radicals. A healthy gut also has a positive impact on our psyche, with the probiotics found in sauerkraut and yoghurt proven to have health benefits, for example. Iranian scientists have found that they restore the balance in the intestine and are said to reduce symptoms of depression. Although the connection between depression and good diet has not been fully proven, it is clear that our favourite food from childhood can make us as happy today as it did in the past, because our brain associates experiences with the emotions felt at the time.

Forest bathing

The Japanese practice of “Shinrin-yoku” or spending time in the forest is even prescribed as a form of therapy in Japan. Japanese researchers have proved in studies that this increases the activity of the immune system’s natural killer cells and releases anti-cancer proteins. And it is undisputed that spending time in nature has a positive effect on health and stress resistance. For example, a study conducted by the Michigan University showed that spending just 20 to 30 minutes outside in contact with nature reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol considerably. And this was regardless of whether the study participants sat or walked slowly. The “nature pill”, as the researchers called taking regular breaks in nature, had a positive on the psyche in both cases.