4 easy things to improve mental health after stroke
You have or someone you know has had a life altering event. The change to people's personalities, self esteem, mental health, and emotional regulation is completely normal. Dealing with the after effects can be difficult, but there are simple things you can try and help you on your journey. Many people report that losing physical function is often accompanied by a sense of loss, and a changing of identity. Not being able to do many simple life tasks without assistance at first can feel harrowing, and can be severely impactful on your mental health. These are some simple things nearly anyone can do in some way, shape or form. It isn't about magically curing you, it's about relieving some stress and remembering the good things in life <3 Remember, each of these will work differently for each person, and we are not asking or expecting you to be able to deal with all your mental health problems all at once by doing any of these things. But they can help! 1. Exposure to Nature
Being in nature is extremely good for your health. Doctors are now recommending people go immersive themselves in nature for mental and physical health. The biophilia hypothesis (love of nature) says that the human brain evolved in nature over millennia, and to look at random natural fractal patterns and experience the sounds, sights and smells of nature.
Even looking at natural objects or having a poster of a wild/nature scene has shown to have positive effects on the brain. Just listening to rain, rivers running or birds has a positive effect on mood. Many people find listening to natural noises (or pink noises) can help with mood and also deep sleep. One of the more recent research studies on pink noise was published in 2017. It examined the effect of pink noise on sleep for a small group of 13 older adults. The study found that listening to pink noise while sleeping increased slow wave activity, which is associated with deep sleep.
Get some houseplants, even rocks or sticks or anything natural that you can find or that you are drawn to. You can watch nature documentaries, or even just watch cute animal videos on youtube. We know it can be difficult to arrange going out in nature as someone with mobility issues, so let nature come to you! Virtual reality natural environments are the strongest effect of all compared to being in nature. Virtual reality can be a worthwhile substitute for people who are unable to get outdoors, such as those with mobility problems.
But the best is to actually immerse yourself in nature. This can be as simple as sitting in your garden, going to the beach, or sitting in a park. This can be difficult if you are having movement or sensory overload problems, so find what is the simplest, easiest thing for you to do. If you can ask a carer, family member or friend to help you go out in nature, make a little adventure or picnic out of it. Remember even 5 minutes outside is better than none.
2. Talk to others about your experience
Sharing what has happened and how it's made you feel is an important part of your healing journey. It’s not always easy to describe how you’re feeling. If you can’t think of one word, use lots. What does it feel like inside your head? What does it make you feel like doing? This practice is called affect labeling.
It helps you focus on what is bothering you, is cathartic and soothing and allows you to tell others what you are feeling and why. This can be done verbally, or written and some people will have preferences for one or the other. Human beings are social animals and we have strong emotional brain center responses when talking about our problems to others. We sync brain waves when talking to others, and lower our cortisol and stress response when making eye contact when talking. Studies have shown that simply talking about our problems and sharing our negative emotions with someone we trust can be profoundly healing—reducing stress, strengthening our immune system, and reducing physical and emotional distress. Neuroscience studies have found that labeling our feelings reduces activation in the amygdala, our brain’s alarm system that triggers the fight-or-flight reaction. When we give words to our emotions, we move away from limbic reactivity by activating those parts of the brain that deal with language and meaning.
This can involve anything from a bath, to a shower, to gently running your hands in water, to even listening to the sound of water. Think saunas, the beach, pools, baths, float tanks, even a little foot bath :p Cold showers have been linked to improved mood, stress levels and immune system response. They can be full on at first, and there are many different methods. I personally got started by the Scottish method, which is starting hot and ending cold. You can start with 30 seconds and go up to 5 minutes, I generally last for 2 minutes tops.
Ask for assistance from a carer or loved one but the movement or being in water is not only relaxing but good for gentle muscle building and mind/brain connection. A hot bath can do wonders for sore muscles and your body is a good place to be in isolation. Just make sure your carer knows how to lift you in and out of the bath safely.
If you don't want the full bath experience, try a simple foot bath with some epsom salts and essential oils. This relaxes your feet, which has a knock on effect to the rest of your body as they are the base of something called fascia, a tissue that wraps around your body to help with movement. It runs all the way from your feet to the back of your neck! Another option is a float tank, which can be pricier but has researched effects on stress, creativity, sleep and pain.
There is generally a float tank business in most cities around you, and it is a different experience but it has been reported to be extremely beneficial to the body and mind.
4. Aromatherapy Aromatherapy is an extremely effective mood altering practice. Studies have shown that essential oils can have an effect on anxiety, pain, and has antidepressant, anticonvulsant and sedative effects. Breathing in essential oils can directly affect and go into your blood supply system by the capillaries in your lungs. The part of your brain that is linked to smell is the olfactory bulbs, which are connected to ancient, primal parts of the brain linked to your nervous system.
Lavender oil has shown to be nearly as effective as anti anxiety medication, and is a delightful smell for most people that will surely relax and bring back memories. It can help relieve anxiety, decrease stress, improve mood and promote relaxation
Ginger may be useful in helping lower symptoms that accompany depression, and it also may be helpful in lowering stress. According to a 2011 animal study, Ginger may protect the brain from stress-related damage. Researchers found that stress-challenged rats that received ginger extract experienced protection from certain brain damage. Bergamot oil is best used to help treat symptoms of anxiety, which can also be a complication from ongoing depression.
The citrus scent of bergamot oil is known for being both uplifting and calming. Rose oil have calming and relaxing effects. The oils can also help regulate what are called “autonomic functions,” such as your breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Find your favourite scent 🤩 and smell deeply. Everyone will have different smell profiles and favourites, so find what works for you. The more you use it to affect your mood in a positive way, the more neural connections will be built up and hopefully the happier you will become
Conclusion There are many small easy adjustments you can do in your life to help with your mood. They aren't a golden ticket, and smelling lavender will not magically kick you out of depression or fix your problems. BUT THEY CAN HELP YOU REMOVE SOME STRESS WHICH IS ALWAYS GOOD. See what works for you, and remember to find what works for you, this is just 4.
References 1 Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective (https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.aax0903) 2. Why Is Nature Beneficial?: The Role of Connectedness to Nature
(https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0013916508319745) 2. Papalambros NA, Santostasi G, Malkani RG, Braun R, Weintraub S, Paller KA, Zee PC. Acoustic enhancement of sleep slow oscillations and concomitant memory improvement in older adults. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017 Mar 8;11:109. 4. Nurtured by nature (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature) 5. Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052)
3. Disclosure of traumas and immune function: Health implications for psychotherapy.
https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1988-27259-001 4. Putting feelings into words: affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17576282) 8. Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART): a framework for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23112770/)
5.The Anxiolytic Effect of Aromatherapy on Patients Awaiting Ambulatory Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3877597/) 6. Zingiber officinale Mitigates Brain Damage and Improves Memory Impairment in Focal Cerebral Ischemic Rat (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21197427/) 7. Relaxing effect of rose oil on humans (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19370942/)