This past Friday (October 10, 2014) was World Mental Health Day. And although this year’s theme was dealing with Schizophrenia, I think it’s an important day to reflect on where we each are with our mental health. Regardless if you feel you might have mental health issues or not.
Mental health is about the way you think and feel, your ability to deal with ups and downs that occur in your life. We all have good days and bad ones, and it’s important to have a foundation there to help you through the bad days so you can enjoy the good ones more.
Here are a few tips how to look after yourself and your mental health.
Talk it out
Some may think talking about your feelings shows weakness, when in fact it’s the opposite. Those that can open up about their feelings and express them generally have a better chance to cope or take charge of their mental well-being. Not to mention the feeling of being supported and less alone.
And if you’re having difficulty expressing how you feel in a couple words, then that’s fine. Use as many words as you need. Allow yourself time to ramble about how you’re feeling in your head and how those feelings are affecting you. There’s no rush.
Watch what you eat
Most people when they’re feeling down will turn to food as an emotional replacement. They try to eat their feelings instead of expressing them, and that could potentially be harmful long-term to both your physical and mental health.
By grabbing some chocolate, a highly caffeinated drink or a greasy take-away, you aren’t helping yourself get out of your downer but are instead feeding it and giving it ammunition to grow. As much as that oh-so-delicious kebab smothered in garlic and chili sauce may taste when you’re feeling blue, it really isn’t going to make you feel better. In fact, your body and mind would thank you more for a well balanced meal.
Don’t be a stranger
One of the big mistakes people make when feeling down is they don’t reach out to their friends and family for support, because they think that is being weak and they should only deal with the issues themselves.
However reaching out helps you feel included and cared for. When you discuss what’s bothering you with someone, they can give you a different view of the situation, give some advice, help you see the bigger picture, and hopefully get you out of the house to stay active.
Sometimes the best thing to help you mentally is to just chill with a friend and have a few laughs. You’d be amazed at how much that helps.
Take a break
Sometimes a change of pace or scenery can do a lot of good for your mental health, and it doesn’t have to be some big holiday to a beach resort.
Basically give yourself some ‘me’ time to relax and let the world wait for you to come back to it. There’s no rush, things can wait. If you don’t take time for yourself, then your mental health can suffer and concentration can go down.
Rest. Recharge. Revitalise.
Let’s be honest. Having good self-esteem helps you cope when your life makes a sharp left turn out of nowhere. By feeling confident about who you as a person, you can better handle the things that come up without them dragging you down. Not only will others find you more confident, but you will value yourself and your own contributions more.
It’s about being proud of who you are as a person, where you are/come from, and focusing on what you’re good at instead of obsessing over what you’re not. And if there’s something about yourself you’re not happy about, then take the time to work on it and improve that part of yourself.
This isn’t about becoming a gym-bunny and working out like crazy. Sure, a good workout can do your body and mind a load of good, but this is more about just getting up off the couch and getting out there in life. It could be as simple as a walk in the park, or doing some housework, or dancing your butt off at some club.
The important thing is to maintain some regular activity that will release endorphins and other chemicals into your brain that help you feel good. And feeling good boosts your self-confidence, helps you concentrate, and generally makes you feel better about yourself overall.
A lot of people turn to alcohol as a way to deal with their problems, thinking that a glass or two of wine will help you unwind and deal with the issues at hand. But this is only temporary, and when you’ve drunk to excess, the bad feelings are compounded due to the withdrawal effects of the alcohol.
Basically excessive drinking (or smoking or using drugs) only give you a temporary reprieve from your issues and can cause larger issues long term. Getting drunk to change how you feel when you’re stressed is unhealthy and doesn’t allow you to deal with the issue at hand.
Not enough of us are willing to speak up and ask for help when we can’t cope with something. For whatever reason society has dictated we must all be super-humans and deal with everything internally ourselves, without ever showing any signs of weakness.
Not enough of us will ask for help, even if it’s as simple as talking things over with a loved one. And those who need more than just a friendly shoulder to lean on, we need to be more willing to ask for professional help, be it from our GP’s or a councillor or therapist. Or you can join a peer support group of some kind. Whatever works to help you get through the issues at hand and allows you to move forward with your life.
When you’re feeling down, go do something you enjoy doing and are truly good at. By doing so, you’ll feel you’ve achieved something and it can help boost your self esteem and forget your worries for awhile. It changes your mood and forces you to concentrate on something other than the issue at hand.
It can be anything as long as it allows you to identify as yourself, not as someone in relation to someone else. It can something competitive like playing a game of football, or something creative like spending an hour with your sketchpad drawing. Just have some fun and get away from yourself for a bit.
Caring is sharing
Taking care for someone else can be an important way to improve your mental health. It doesn’t have to be as in-depth as physically caring for an elderly family member, but could be as simple as showing those around you that you value them and care for them. It helps maintain those relationships and could also bring you closer together.
For some people, this can be done through volunteering or charity work, or could be through caring for an animal. Regardless of how you do it, it allows you to create bonds with those around you, structure to your day, and gives you a link to other people.