One in four of us will, at some point in our lives, be affected by mental health issues. This ranges from common problems like anxiety, stress and depression to rarer, highly complex conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis.
While in recent years people have started to talk more openly about poor mental health, in many societies and communities there remains a stigma around the subject and the problem appears to be on the rise.
Today is World Mental Health Day and this year the theme is ‘making mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority.’ Taking the global perspective may be a bit beyond our reach but we have found some tips for how people can prioritise their own mental health. Read on to find out more.
Protecting your mental health
In their guide, ‘Our Best Mental Health Tips’, the Mental Health Foundation say:
“Protecting our mental health is easier than you might think. We can all do it every day, and with simple activities that help us feel OK, we’re better able to cope with life. It’s like brushing your teeth daily – important in preventing problems. It’s the same for our mental health. It can also be fun!”
Of course, everybody is different and what’s easy or fun for one person will feel much harder for someone else. However, as each of their tips are backed up by research which shows they work, it’s got to worth giving them a try.
You can read the full guide here but we’ve also picked out five tips to share in this week’s blog.
1. Get closer to nature
People have been living around other animals and plants for thousands of years and research show that when we’re feeling sad, stressed or fearful, being around nature can have a really positive effect. Some people say nature helps them feel calmer, more hopeful and less alone. During the pandemic in 2020, ‘going for a walk’ was identified as the UK adults’ favourite way of coping with stress.
Originating in Japan but fast becoming popular in other many countries, ‘forest bathing’ (going to a forest or wood and experiencing the different smells, sounds and textures) is practiced by some people as a means of improving their mental health. To get the best out of nature’s healing effects, try tuning your senses to what’s around you – the trees, plants, birds and animals, for instance, as well any water such as ponds or rivers. The idea is to get connected with your natural surroundings so take a deep breath and see how you feel.
2. Talk to someone you trust
When experiencing problems or painful feelings, all too often people try to ignore them, ‘bottling them up’ inside while putting on a brave face. It can take a lot of courage to break that habit and tell someone else about how we’re really feeling or what difficulties we’re facing.
However, talking things through with a person you trust can be a big relief, helping you to feel safer and less alone while also potentially changing the way you see/ feel about your situation and preventing things from getting worse.
Another possible benefit is that talking may strengthen your relationship with the person you talk to. This is likely to benefit both of you and make it easier for them to turn to you, should there come a time when they need support.
3. Be kind
If you have ever felt lonely, you will know how much it helps to have even a small connection with someone else (even if it’s just exchanging a smile or a few friendly words).
Research shows that kindness is good for both the receiver and the giver. Being kind can boost our mood, help us feel more capable, strengthen our connections with others and even make us cope better with stress.
If you don’t know where to start, you could try small but meaningful acts of kindness, such as offering that smile or some kind words to another person. You could make their day but also feel better for it – friendly connections with others are vital for our mental health.
To go a step further, you could try getting together with other people while volunteering for a good cause. This type of activity can help us feel connected with other people and the world around us as well as giving us the sense that we can make a difference.
4. Keep moving
Wellbeing within our bodies and our minds are closely connected, so looking after ourselves physically also helps to prevent problems with our mental health (and vice versa).
Exercise releases ‘feel good’ hormones that reduce feelings like stress and anger. It also helps us feel better about our bodies and can improve sleep patterns too. If the activity involves other people like being part of a team, a class or group, that can also reduce feelings like loneliness and boost our mental health.
No-one has to be a professional athlete or especially sporty to get the benefits of being physically active. Go to the gym if that’s what you like but there are lots of other options – for instance walking the dog, gardening, cycling or dancing. The best exercise for improving physical and mental health is simply the one we enjoy.
5. Eat healthy
Food and drink affect our bodies, brains and mood – for good or for bad.
Sugary snacks and drinks can give us a temporary ‘high’ or sense of comfort but they can also soon leave us feeling exhausted or jittery. Caffeine in coffee, tea and energy drinks can also have this effect.
For good physical and mental health, try to follow a balanced diet, which includes lots of vegetables and fruit. How and where we eat is also important. Having meals together with other people can help to grow relationships – with family, friends, partners, and colleagues. This is really important in protecting everyone’s mental health and preventing problems.
Find out more
We’ve taken these tips from information provided by the Mental Health Foundation. They are just five examples of the small actions you can take to prioritise and improve your mental health. To see more, read the MHF full guide here.
Feature image: Freepik