Healthy Balanced Diet
The relationship between our diet and our mental health is complex. However, research shows a link between what we eat and how we feel.
Eating well can help you feel better. You don’t have to make big changes to your diet, but see if you can try some of these tips.
Eat regularly. This can stop your blood sugar level from dropping, which can make you feel tired and bad-tempered.
Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level and ability to concentrate.
Eat the right balance of fats. Your brain needs healthy fats to keep working well. They’re found in things such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, milk and eggs. Avoid trans fats – often found in processed or packaged foods – as they can be bad for your mood and your heart health.
Include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet. They contain the vitamins and minerals your brain and body need to stay well.
Include some protein with every meal. It contains an amino acid that your brain uses to help regulate your mood.
Look after your gut health. Your gut can reflect how you’re feeling: it can speed up or slow down if you're stressed. Healthy food for your gut includes fruit, vegetables, beans and probiotics.
Be aware of how caffeine can affect your mood. It can cause sleep problems, especially if you drink it close to bedtime, and some people find it makes them irritable and anxious too. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate.
What should I eat?
Alcohol and mental health are closely linked. Drinking too much can affect your well-being. Some people may drink to try to relieve the symptoms of mental ill-health.
People drink for many reasons: to celebrate, socialise, commiserate or drown our sorrows. We may drink to try and change our mood: to feel more relaxed, courageous or confident. However, the effect of alcohol is only temporary. As it wears off, we often feel worse because of how alcohol withdrawal affects our brain and body.
You may feel like alcohol is your coping mechanism: a way to deal with depression, stress, anxiety or other difficult feelings. You might be nervous about what life would be like if you stopped drinking or cut back. But relying on alcohol to manage your mental well-being can become a problem in itself. There’s no shame in asking for help and exploring what a new relationship with alcohol could look like.
Alcohol problems and mental ill health are closely linked.
Research shows that people who drink alcohol are more likely to develop mental health problems. It’s also true that people with severe mental illness are more likely to have alcohol problems. This may be because they ‘self-medicate’, meaning they drink to deal with difficult feelings or symptoms.
In the short-term, drinking too much can lead to alcohol poisoning, sleep problems, an upset stomach, bloating and migraines. It may make you behave recklessly or aggressively, have an accident or become the victim of violence.
Drinking a lot for many years will take its toll on your body. Long-term alcohol misuse increases your risk of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, liver disease and cancer. It can lead to social problems such as relationship break-ups, unemployment, financial difficulties and homelessness.
Alcohol is a depressant, which can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in your brain and affect your feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
Alcohol affects the part of your brain that controls inhibition, so you may feel relaxed, less anxious, and more confident after a drink. But these effects quickly wear off. The chemical changes in your brain can soon lead to more negative feelings, such as anger, depression or anxiety, regardless of your mood.
Alcohol also slows down how your brain processes information, making it harder to work out what you’re really feeling and the possible consequences of your actions.
In the long-term, alcohol uses up and reduces the number of neurotransmitters in our brains, but we need a certain level to ward off anxiety and depression. This can make you want to drink more to relieve these difficult feelings – which can start a cycle of dependence.
The government advises that both men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week. This is the equivalent of six pints of average-strength beer or six medium glasses of wine. If you regularly drink as much of this, it’s best to spread it over three or more days.
If you’re worried about drinking or feel it’s affecting your mental health, a lot of help is available.
A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)
A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.
Al-Anon offers support and understanding to the family and friends of problem drinkers.
Alcohol Change UK campaign for better alcohol policies and improved support for people whose lives are affected by alcohol problems. They offer help and support if you want to change your drinking habits.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) runs free self-help groups for anyone who thinks they have a drink problem.
Drinkaware provides advice, information and tools to help people make better choices about their drinking.
Drinkline is a free, confidential helpline for anyone worried about their drinking or someone else’s. Call 0300 123 1100.
SMART Recovery groups help people build their motivation to change and offer tools and techniques to help with their recovery.
Turning Point offers tailored support to people with drug or alcohol problems. This could be advice, medical treatment, peer support, social activities or help getting back into work, for example.