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Thinking about mental health

We hear the term ‘Mental Health’ used increasingly frequently. Ironically, though, it’s often used when we are talking about poor mental health or things that have an adverse effect on our mental health. So what does it mean to be mentally healthy?

We can think of being mentally healthy as being in a good state of emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. When we are mentally healthy this positively impacts on how we feel, how we think, and how we behave. It can also have a significant impact on our state of physical health (and vice verse).

So what can you do to protect and improve your mental health? Here are some tips to get you going!

  1. Mindfulness

Often life is so busy that we don’t take time to ‘check in’ with ourselves and assess how we’re feeling. If you don’t tune in to the information from your body and mind that can give you early warning signs if you’re getting overwhelmed or feeling unusually down, you might end up feeling far worse before you do anything about it. Taking just a few minutes a day to tune into your body, mind and emotions helps you to identify potential mental health threats before they become serious issues, and actively reduces the effects of stress on your body and mind.

2. It’s good to talk

A problem shared is a problem halved. Talking and social connection has been shown to have a highly beneficial effect on both physical and mental health. Sometimes if your thoughts are running away with you just voicing them to a friend or a professional can help you put things in perspective.

3. Exercise

The benefits of exercise aren’t just physical. If the thought of hitting the gym for a workout fills you with dread, don’t worry! Even gentler exercise like a walk with the dogs, a yoga class or a spin on your bike, can reduce the effects of stress on your body and mind – especially if you exercise outdoors. Try listening to music or sharing your exercise with a friend to boost the feel good chemicals in your brain and maintain your motivation.

Lady walking along country road at sunrise

4. You are what you eat (and drink!) 

We tend to be more aware of the effects of food on our bodies than on our minds. But a diet which is high in processed foods, inflammatory foods, and low on variety and nutrients, isn’t the best for your mental health either. Try to eat a wide range of foods and remember to drink plenty of water and keep a check on your alcohol consumption. Although alcohol can initially seem to improve our mood, it can increase anxiety and depression as well as our sleep quality.

5. Sweet sleep

Speaking of sleep, it’s one of the best ways to keep your mental health high (as anyone who suffers with poor sleep will know). Some people are lucky and can fall and stay asleep with ease. If you’re not so lucky you may need to have a sleep routine (practice what’s known as sleep hygiene) to improve the duration and quality of your sleep. Simple things like changing the time of your evening meal, cutting down on caffeine, and coming off screens before bedtime can make a big difference to your sleep, and your mental health.

Man sleeping

6. Reach out

One of the best ways to improve your mental health is to help and support others. Whether you try volunteering for a cause close to your heart or just do something kind for a friend or neighbour in need, being kind and helpful to others makes us feel good, and has a positive effect on our mental and physical health.

7. Get expert help sooner rather than later

If you have, or are worried that you have a mental health condition, don’t try to fix it alone. In spite of greater awareness and openness about mental health conditions many people still feel a stigma around discussing their own mental health issues. With some conditions there’s a lot you can do to help yourself but it’s still important to get an accurate diagnosis. Other mental health conditions really need to be managed with expert help and, potentially, medication.

Close up picture of man and woman having a cup of tea together

Mental health disorders

Doctors have identified around 300 different types of mental health disorders. Some of the most common include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety / General Anxiety disorder
  • Eating disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge eating
  • Personality disorders e.g. schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder
  • Addictions e.g. drugs, alcohol and gambling 
  • Trauma-based conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

It is highly likely that at some point in your life you will have experienced some sort of mental health issue. During the pandemic many people’s mental health has deteriorated with a double whammy of increased anxiety and the taking away of many of our ‘coping mechanisms’ like socialising and exercise.

One of the few ‘silver linings’ of this situation is that discussions about mental health have become more common and less stigmatised. In schools, workplaces and communities there is increased awareness, recognition and openness about the importance of mental health and wellbeing. Although far from where it needs to be, support is becoming more readily available.

Take the first step today

Whether you have mental health difficulties, your mental health is great, or you’re not sure, why not take the inspiration on World Mental Health Day to take a small step towards greater mental health. If you’re struggling, perhaps you could pick up the phone or send a message to a friend or one of the many organisations offering support. If your mental health is good, maybe you could lend a hand or an ear to someone else – good for both of you! And if you haven’t really thought about the state of your mental health, why not take 5 minutes to check in with yourself? Because mental health awareness starts with awareness of our own mental health.

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