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mental health

Mental Health

Is the black dog bothering you?  We totally get it, so we’ve compiled some holistic expert advice that you can employ to support your mental health and wellness strategies.

Straight out of the gate, I’m going to state that the following advice is not designed to replace any medical advice at all. If you are suffering depression, anxiety or any other form of mental illness, even if it’s mild, it’s imperative that you visit your health care practitioner for personalised, individual help and advice. You can work together with that expert to develop a plan that can hopefully bring things back in balance.

From there, you can support your mental and emotional wellness with some of these amazing vegan food and lifestyle tips, as shared by some of our favourite experts.


If you’re feeling depressed or low, you might need vitamin B. Because B Group vitamins, especially B12, are mainly sourced from animal products; vegans can be particularly susceptible to vitamin B-deficient-related mood swings. “B Complex vitamins support the nervous system,” explains naturopath Karina Francois from Infinite Health in Berwick, Victoria ( “If you’re lacking, it can affect your mood.” Source B12 from fortified foods like cereals, soymilk and tofu and tempeh. For the others in the group, be sure you’re eating plenty of leafy greens like bok choy, Swiss chard, kale and Brussels sprouts. Potatoes, squash and parsnip are also good sources, as are legumes, soy beans, black eye peas and edemame. If you think you’re missing out, see your doctor for a blood test and discuss supplementation. A great vegan mood boost is  Arbonne’s new Essentials Mind Health Cleanse, $84 for 30 sachets. It is designed specifically to support neurological function, thanks to vitamin B12 to support concentration and focus and Coenzyme Q10 to help maintain a healthy nervous system. You can find it at (


“Feeling great involves doing things that boost your happiness and avoiding anything that detracts from it,” says holistic happiness coach, Helen Hawkes ( “With this in mind, begin each day with a YOU routine. Brew your favourite tea, go for a long walk with your dog, do yoga … whatever makes you happy and gives you time to set your intention for the day.”


“Turn off the nightly news, block the Facebook page that constantly posts about drama, death and destruction and unplug anything that brings negativity into your life,” says Hawke. “Studies increasingly suggest that our immune system simply cannot cope with the constant barrage of bad news we are fed every day. Quite simply, it’s depressing and brings with it a sense of hopelessness and disempowerment.”


“It’s impossible to be overtired and cheerful,” says Hawkes. “If you’re having trouble sleeping, turn your bedroom into a retreat – beautiful sheets, relaxing essential oils, comfy pillows, artwork you love… Soak in a warm bath before bed with some relaxing music playing. If all else fails, try a natural sleep formula like valerian.”


If a friend told you constantly that you were stupid, fat or ugly, would you keep them around? No, you’d ditch them. Hawke says: “Don’t speak to yourself in that way, either. Forget negative self-talk, guilt and shame and embrace love and acceptance for yourself and the beautiful human that you are.”


The healing and relaxing power of pure essential oils is well documented, says Intuitive Reiki practitioner and founder of Yoka Heart Balms (, Karen Grant. “When you’re feeling fatigued or overwhelmed, look for calming and grounding oils including Frankincense, Lavender, Geranium and Wild Orange. These will help centre your focus and soothe your nerves, as well as uplift your soul.” Try Yoka Heart Calm Balm, $22,, which is the perfect portable de-stressing tool. Take a few deep breaths as you massage it over pulse points. The essential oils will enter the bloodstream via the olfactory nerves in your nose as well as from absorption via your skin.


Derived from the Japanese words Rei (meaning universal life) and Ki (meaning energy) Reiki channels universal energy with the intent of reminding the body of its own healing capabilities. “Studies are increasingly showing that Reiki can reduce depression and anxiety and improve mood and general wellbeing,” says Grant. “During a treatment, the practitioner will lightly place their hands on specific points on the body to encourage a freeing up of any energetic blockages in the body. “The experience of Reiki is subjective and varies depending on what the client needs. A feeling of relaxation and release of tension is the most common result, with clients feeling deeply rested and refreshed. Some people experience sensations of heat or coolness where the Reiki Practitioner has placed their hands during treatment. Others feel subtle pulsations of energy in a particular spot or throughout the body.”


Our brains require fats to function optimally, which includes mood and state of mind, says Francois. “Omega 3’s are important for neural messages, as well as reducing inflammation in the brain. They have been shown to improve brain function in the areas of motivation and emotion. Vegan sources are mainly walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, beans, pumpkin, leafy greens, cabbage, berries, wild rice, mango, cloves, marjoram and rockmelon.”


“We now refer to the gut as ‘the second brain’”, says Francois. “The gut flora in the large and small intestine has been proven to affect mood and mental health. Gut flora help to produce 95 percent of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is the ‘happy hormone’. It supports mental cognition and emotional stability.” A quick and easy cleanse can bring your gut back in to balance.


Vegan sources of protein including pumpkin seeds, sesame, sunflower seeds, walnuts, mushrooms and leafy greens all contain tryptophan,” says Francois. “Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, the happy hormone, and melatonin, the quality sleep hormone.”


Herbal teas, tonics, tablets or decoction can really help assist mood, says Francois and there are so many you can choose from.

“Turmeric is amazing. Chronic inflammation can decrease levels of serotonin and dopamine and lead to degeneration in certain brain areas. It is possible that turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects can restore these neurotransmitters and protect the brain, eventually leading to improvements in mood.

“Likewise, saffron changes the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain and has antioxidants that help clean up free radicals in the body to reduce inflammation.

“St. John’s Wort helps with neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, all of which are important in mood. Passionflower and lemon balm are both very calming, while ziziphus helps to increase serotonin in the brain and is thought to alleviate some symptoms of mild depression.”


This one is non-negotiable, says Francois. “You need to move to keep blood flow to the brain and help neurotransmitters rise. Stand up, be vertical and keep going! Push through and don’t wait for motivation to come to you – it’s like a bad friend, never there when you need it, so you need to find it.

“The more you exercise, the better your mind will feel. While exercise is great for helping you look better, the intrinsic benefits far outweigh the extrinsic ones! The way exercise lifts our mood is just as important as the way it shapes our muscles.”

Yoga is of course an amazing form of movement that is really useful in alleviating the symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Aside from the obvious physical benefits, it also serves as a meditation and allows you to become more centred and grounded.


Magnesium works as an anti-inflammatory,” explains Francois. “It helps to stop inflammation in the brain and reduces the stress hormones which can lead to anxiety. It also supports the production of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), the neurotransmitter that helps send messages between the brain and the nervous system. Research increasingly points to the role GABA can play in reducing feelings of anxiety and fear, thanks to its natural calming effect.


“Try a mala meditation exercise when you begin to feel those all-too familiar pangs of stress, anxiety and blackness approaching,” says Grant. Grab your Mala beads and do a round of 108 ‘OMS’.

Mala beads are typically made with 108 beads, so you can track your progress with each bead. Sit cross-legged in a peaceful, quiet place and take a deep breath as you place your fingers on the first bead. As you exhale, make the sound of ‘OM’ and expel every last bit of breath before inhaling and repeating again. “The energy that vibrates through the body with each OM will frequently push away any niggling thoughts that are surfacing,” she says.


Lifestyle and Beauty editor Shonagh Walker


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