Self Care: The Foundation of Mental Health

When patients suffering from depression, anxiety or chronic stress come to me seeking help, I always ask about self-care.  What do you eat? Is there a lot of sugar in your diet? How well do you sleep? Do you exercise regularly? Do you have a daily mindfulness or spiritual practice?  People expect me to ask about their relationships, their childhood, or their traumatic experiences – but sugar?  Why would I ask about sugar and exercise? What you eat, how well you sleep, exercise, even if you have a daily spiritual practice can dramatically impact your mental health.   I always ask these questions because there are powerful connections between lifestyle and mental health.  If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, how you care for your body really matters. The best psychotherapy in the world cannot be effective if you exist on M&Ms and Diet Coke, and get 4 hours of sleep each night.  Here are some facts about lifestyle and mental health that may surprise you:
  • People with insomnia are 10 times more likely to suffer from clinical depression and 17 times more likely to suffer from clinical anxiety. In fact, the more frequently a person with insomnia wakes up at night, the higher the chances of developing depression (National Sleep Foundation,
  • A 2017 study found that men who consumed a “high amount” of sugar each day (defined as 64 grams or more, the equivalent of only 1 and ½ cans of Coke) were 23 percent more likely to receive a diagnosis of clinical depression within five years (
  • Meditation or any type of regular spiritual practice, has been linked to changes in the brain (thickening of the brain cortex) that are linked to greater protective benefits against depression (JAMA Psychiatry).  There is increasing evidence that shows that exercise is equally (sometimes more) successful in treating depression than antidepressant medication alone. (
Self care, such as adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, and spiritual practices are what I call “The Basics.” These are foundational practices that need to be in place so that emotional healing may occur.  Over the next several weeks, I will explore “The Basics” – fundamental principles of healthy living that are crucial to emotional and mental health, and to healing trauma, depression, and anxiety.