Mind Your Mental Health

The World Health Organisation’s World Mental Health Day takes place on 10th October every year, with the objective of raising awareness of mental health issues and getting people to take action to support better mental health. As many of us seem to be struggling with the stresses and strains of daily life, actively looking after our mental health is something we should all be doing, yet it’s often something that seems like an afterthought.

Here are some simple but effective steps you can take to strengthen your resilience and improve your general mental wellbeing.

1. Communicate 

If you’re finding life particularly hectic or stressful, talking to others can often help you get a new perspective on things. Sharing your problems and opening up about how you feel will help you think more clearly about situations. The person you speak to may have practical suggestions about what you can do, such as breaking down the problem into separate, more manageable pieces, or advising on where you could go for further help or support.

2. Write it down

Simply putting your problem into words can also help you see your situation more clearly. However, if you find the notion of speaking to someone a little off-putting, why not record your thoughts and emotions in a journal? Many support organisations offer email helplines and social media pages, so you can write about what’s troubling you rather than talking to someone in person. Useful contacts are listed at the end of
this article.

3. Slow down

Your relationships with other people have a massive impact on how you feel. Regular social contact can help lift you if you’re feeling down. While the thought of making a telephone call or writing an email can be incredibly hard if you are feeling at a low ebb, a quick call, a few texts or social media messages to friends or family can help you feel
connected to others.

If you’d like to meet new people but don’t know how, why not take up a new hobby or do some voluntary work? Research has found that people are often happiest when helping others, so volunteering or performing random acts of kindness will improve your mood. The Mental Health Foundation recommends caring for a pet, as the bond between you can be as strong as human relationships. It can help bring more structure to your day and act as a link to other people – for example, you may make friends with other dog-walkers while out walking your own.

4. Watch your diet

A healthy and balanced diet, packed with fresh fruit, vegetables, protein and complex carbohydrates is essential for good mental health. Avoid too much alcohol as it can contribute to depression and will also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. In addition, drinks containing caffeine can cause agitation, making it hard to relax. Drink lots of water and try cutting down on tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks, if you have them, to improve your mental health.

5. Excersise regularly 

Exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous – even just half an hour’s walk a day, some gardening or housework can all make a difference to your mental wellbeing. Physical activity releases endorphins and other mood-enhancing chemicals into your brain, improving your self-esteem as you start to look and feel better. Find a form of exercise that suits you (and that you enjoy) and try to build it into your daily routine.

6. Change your scenery

If you’re feeling anxious or low, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. A simple way to improve your mood is to have a change of scenery. Moving to a different room or going out for a walk will help clear your head and get rid of negative thoughts. Spending time outdoors is calming; exposure to the full spectrum of light found outdoors during the daytime can help you sleep better and may ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the ‘winter blues’.

If you’ve been diagnosed with SAD and find it difficult to spend
time outside, you could consider investing in a light therapy box, which provides the same benefits as being outside in the daylight.

7. Rest and relax

Sleep deprivation will make you tired, stressed, run-down and more prone to mental health problems. While everyone is different, you should broadly be aiming for between seven to nine hours of sleep every night. [1] Develop a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking at the same time every day, even on weekends/days off, when you can.

8. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is simply about focusing on yourself and your environment in a given moment. It involves taking the time to recognise how you’re feeling, both physically and mentally, observing the world around you and accepting it all without judgement. One of the most common practices associated with mindfulness is meditation. There are plenty of guided meditations and apps to help you get started (Headspace and Calm are two of the most popular apps). But if meditation is not for you, there are other simple things you can do to become more mindful; it’s just about taking time to really focus on the moment and doing one thing at a time. If you find yourself rushing through the day feeling harassed and stressed, remember to STOP, i.e.:

  • Stop
  • Take a moment
  • Observe
  • Proceed

9. Lower your stress levels

If you’re not sleeping well, are ill-tempered, have difficulty concentrating or find yourself anxious or worrying a lot, then you are probably suffering from stress. A certain degree of stress in life can be useful, pushing us to find a solution to a problem, for example, or to meet a tight deadline. But too much stress can be harmful. Review your responsibilities and decide what you could do to to remove or reduce the sources of pressure in your life, such as delegating more of your workload or splitting up goals
into more realistic, manageable chunks. Meanwhile, deal with the consequences of stress by devoting more time to relaxing and/or using positive coping techniques, such as meditation or mindfulness.

10. Ask for help

Everyone feels low, anxious or unable to cope occasionally; it’s perfectly normal. So if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Seeking help as soon as you realise that you have a problem is the best thing you can do to prevent it from getting worse. If you feel able, speak to your family or friends in the first instance. Otherwise, you can
talk to your GP, your HR department and/or get in touch with a professional organisation to find out as much as you can about the problem and potential solutions. Then you’ll be able to decide on the best way forward for you.

NB: If someone you know has just been diagnosed with a mental health problem, you may be unsure about how you can help. Increasing your knowledge by learning more about their condition from books, the internet and from mental health organisations will put you in a better position to support that person.

Useful contacts

World Health Organisation (Mental Health pages)
World Federation for Mental Health
Movement for Global Mental Health

United Kingdom:
The Mental Health Foundation
NHS 24

[1] The Sleep Foundation, ‘How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?’ Available
at: https://sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/how-much-sleep-do-wereally-need-0 (accessed 03 October 2017).