The fifth pillar of holistic wellbeing deals with mental wellness, or mental health, and as the World Health Organisation (WHO) famously said: “there is no health without mental health.”
How To Improve Your Mental Wellbeing
Never was a truer sentence uttered.
Just as we all have physical health, which at times prove challenging, we all have mental health. And likewise, there will be days when your mental health is not firing at 100 percent. You know those days when you just want to stay in your pajamas and hide under the duvet? Those days.
And just like your physical health the degree to which your mental health can be affected, can vary from mild to severe.
The difference between mental health and mental illness
Mental health and mental illness are not the same thing at all, yet in today’s society the two seem to be used interchangeably.
But you can differentiate the two by thinking along the lines that health is continuous and an illness is episodic.
When you have the sniffles and feel a bit groggy, this does not mean that you have a serious illness, you’re just feeling a bit off. Similarly, if you’re having a day when you feel a bit down, stressed out or overwhelmed, it does not mean you have a mental illness, it’s just that your mental health that day, more than likely, just has the sniffles.
What is mental health?
Mental health is effectively a measure of your state of mind; how we think, feel and act through our emotions, thoughts and feelings, along with our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, our social connections, and our understanding of the world around us.
Good mental health doesn’t mean having to feel happy and confident all of the time and putting on a brave face whilst ignoring your problems. It means living and coping with life despite the ups and downs, and also having the ability to accept the challenges you face head on and working out how to overcome them.
What is mental illness?
Mental illness also refers to your state of mind, including your mood, thoughts and behaviour, but, more importantly, a mental illness affects your ability to function day to day.
People with a mental illness often experience problems and distress as they go about their everyday lives at work, at home and in social situations.
Mental illnesses include bipolar, schizophrenia, eating and personality disorders, anxiety and depression and are generally caused as a result of biological, social and/or developmental factors.
Unlike a mental health sniffle, mental illness is not something a person can overcome by willpower alone, it needs to be managed and supported as a physical disease would be.
How To Give Your Mental Health A Boost
The body cannot be separated from the mind, so it’s no wonder that it’s difficult to experience good mental health if you are not taking care of yourself physically.
Just like making sure you get those 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, your mental wellness also needs a little helping hand.
And if you want to experience a more positive mental wellness, here are some things you can try:
Exercise is the most under-utilised anti-depressant going, it should be prescribed more often.
Western philosophy has a distinction between mind and body, implying that mental and physical health and separate entities. But, physical exercise directly affects the brain and regular physical exercise increase the volume in certain regions of the brain, improving neuronal health.
People who exercise regularly tend to feel more energetic, sleep better, have sharper memories and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s this ‘feel-good factor’ that motivates them.
Just 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day is enough to significantly improve mood functioning and sleep quality, which helps you improve your ability to regulate your emotions.
Did you know that what you eat, or don’t eat can affect the way you think and feel? Both brain health and mood regulation can be improved through eating a healthy diet.
As we are all unique, we all react differently to different foods, so the best place to start is with experimenting how the foods you cut out, or include in your diet change the way you feel, for better or for worse.
Foods that improve brain health and boost your mood include: oily fish rich in Omega-3 such as mackerel or salmon, nuts, seeds, beans, avocado (get those Instagram pages ready), fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables.
Just as important is to cut out the ‘bad fats’ from your diet such as caffeine, alcohol, processed food and sugar-laden foods.
But sometimes, especially when you’re feeling a bit low, there are times when only cake, chocolate or an entire packet of biscuits will do.
And on the odd occasion it’s perfectly acceptable darlings. Wouldn’t you agree?
Relax and breathe
Fast-paced 21st century living certainly increases stress and anxiety, which in turn takes its toll mentally and emotionally. So it’s important to try and keep stress to a minimum, although sometimes that is easier said than done.
You can’t live in a stress-free bubble, however you can learn to kick back and relax by using stress management strategies to help you bring things back into balance.
For immediate stress-relief, it can be as simple as squeezing a stress ball or listening to an uplifting song to chatting with your best friend over coffee and cake or going shopping.
In the longer term, taking the time to learn relaxation techniques can reduce your overall stress level.
Yoga, mindfulness and meditation all help restore the balance in your mind and body.
Breath work is becoming increasingly popular as a relaxation technique, which I can attest to, but more on that in another post.
The reason being is that when we’re stressed, upset or nervous we invariably hunch our shoulders, hold our breath or breathe fast and shallow, which decreases the amount of oxygen reaching our brains. But by simply focusing on your breathing and allowing yourself to breathe slowly and deeply you can immediately reduce the anxiety.
There are enough people in this world who are all too keen to say you aren’t good enough.
The trick is to learn to ignore them, including the voice inside your head and accept yourself for who you are, flaws and all.
Isn’t it time to start loving yourself?
You are enough!
Input the positive only
Don’t let a steady stream of emotional negativity drag you down, and try and experience more positive things, because what you take in from the external environment can stay active in your subconscious long after the event is over.
However, with information bombarding us 24 hours a day, it’s easy to become oblivious to how much negative ‘stuff’ is infiltrating into your brain.
But what can you do about it?
Why not try an environmental detox?
- Take a mental walk through your daily routine
- Remove anything that feels like it might generate a negative emotion. For example, turn off the news, stop watching/reading/playing anything sad, violent or scary and definitely remove yourself from negative people and conversations
- Make a conscious effort to give your attention to positive, uplifting things such as music, watching something that makes you laugh, read something inspirational, get out in nature, etc.
If you do this for two weeks, you should begin to see a shift.
Remember, attention to positive things equals positive emotions.
Reach out and seek professional help
Even if you’ve made effort upon effort to improve your mental health, but still feel stuck in a rut, low, anxious or depressed it might be time to seek professional help and guidance.
And realizing that you could do with some help, is actually the first step.
Even though mental health awareness is improving, there is a still a stigma attached, and there shouldn’t be.
If we can all continue talking about mental health and the issues surrounding it, maybe we can become more empathic, choose our words more carefully and stop labeling people.
No one should suffer in silence. No one should feel ashamed of speaking up and seeking help.
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