Mental Health Special Series
One stress factor we have control over: our diet
Editor’s Note: The contents within this article are the opinion of the editor and staff.
Overwhelmed, overworked and over it. The stress of working several jobs, attending college and juggling social responsibilities during a pandemic with inconsistent guidelines and a plethora of virus mutations is a vigorous hardship on students’ mental health.
The Mainstream is publishing a series about the uprising of mental health issues among students. Various mental health issues are doubling, tripling and quadrupling among American youth in what amounts to a second pandemic of stress, anxiety and depression. We want students to know that we see them; we hear them.
UCC has seen a significant increase in numbers of students seeking professional help regarding their mental health in the last year nearly double, and that number doesn’t count those suffering who are not seeking help.
UCC was not the only school to report higher numbers of students experiencing higher symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. According to “Anxiety, Depression Reached Record Levels among College Students Last Fall,” “Last fall, college students reported their highest levels of depression and anxiety of any prior semester, according to the University of Michigan Healthy Minds Study.” This study surveyed more than 30,000 students in over 36 U.S. colleges in fall of 2020.
Although many stresses that students face are out of their control, students can control one thing that will definitely improve their mental health: their diet. If I would have known how easy and stress-relieving it was to change my diet, I would have done it sooner.
A poor diet can lead to constant fatigue, making it harder to accomplish simple tasks that were already difficult due to anxiety or stress. Jane Sandwood in her article “The Connection Between Protein and Your Mental Health” says, “The foods you eat impact the structure and function of your brain, playing a major role in emotional regulation and cognitive function.”
Students who are stressed often want to rush through a drive-through, which is admittedly much easier than cooking a meal, but regularly eating high processed foods leads to unwanted side effects. “Eating Well for Mental Health” says, “Your brain and nervous system depend on nutrition to build new proteins, cells and tissues.” Unhealthy eating habits can be physically draining on students’ bodies and lead to unnecessary stress.
Consuming these vital nutrients and vitamins can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. According to “Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses” a healthy diet can help many mental health issues such as: “depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), autism, and addiction.”
When people experience stress, their bodies are often experiencing inflammation, which can be significantly lowered by the type of food that is consumed. Health experts suggest that consuming a variety of healthy fats, carbohydrates, proteins and minerals, students can change the way their body operates.
According to “Foods That Help Tame Stress,” “A healthy diet can help counter the impact of stress by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure.”
So what is a healthy diet that can reduce stress and promote brainpower? “Foods linked to better brainpower” suggests that eating leafy greens, lean protein, berries, nuts and a normal amount of tea and coffee can help to improve mental function and stress levels.
When students experience the heavy amounts of stress that life has to offer, there is often not a lot of control options, but nutrition is one of the ways that people can have almost total control in their own lives. Knowing what to fuel your body with can make a huge impact on day-to-day life, and it can help clear some elements of stress.
The Mainstream has written articles reflecting students’ mental health. The articles include information on how to get help, personal stories, external or internal impact and more. To read these articles, visit The Mainstream website.
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This is the first of eight articles in our special series on mental health. For the rest of the articles in this series, select any of the links below:
UCC student discusses his college anxiety
Trapped Behind the Mask: Neurodivergent student shares college pandemic struggles
Students, staff identify mental health treatment barriers amid rising need
Student Assistance Plan offers free virtual counseling services for UCC students, their families and roommates
Science-based coping strategies reduce mental stress, improve mental health
Poor mental health is costing employers billions
UCC students share their anxiety coping strategies