Your mental health influences how you think, feel, and behave in daily life. It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships.
Strong mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.
People who are mentally healthy usually have a sense of contentment, a zest for living and the ability to have fun, a sense of meaning or purpose in most major relationships and activities, the ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships and finally high self confidence and self esteem. Yet having great mental health doesn’t mean you don’t get anxiety or depression from time to time. However just like someone who is physically fit can bounce back from a physical injury quickly someone with strong mental health can bounce back from trauma, stress, anxiety and periods of depression relatively easily as well. This factor is called resilience (1).
People who are emotionally and mentally resilient can cope with difficult situations and maintain a stable mental state as well as keep an optimistic outlook. To someone with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD or schizophrenia all of this may seem like a far cry from what the challenges they face. Just like someone with good mental health can quickly recover from a bad bout of depression, someone with an already poor mental state could sink further into that depressive state and without help they would be set on a path which could lead to serious harm to themselves as well as their loved ones.
This is why one should always keep their mental health in mind rather than disregard because without it you could very easily lose yourself to an illness which otherwise you could have bounced back from.
There are many things you can do to better your mental health when going through rough patches.
One of the best things to do is to open up about your feeling and confide in someone. This can take a lot of the pressure of isolation away from you as many people with mental illnesses throw up emotional walls and refuse to let anyone in which only leads to their mental state deteriorating even further. If you feel scared of getting judged that fear is totally normal, if so try to confide in someone you absolutely trust. Confiding in the people around you can really help shift a lot of the burden as you will know that you have people who are there to support you and that you are not alone. Venting in online support groups dedicated to mental health is also a great option if you can’t find anyone to confide in close to you. You can get amazing support and advice from such groups from people who sympathize and understand what you are going through.
Going to a therapist regularly should be a must if you have ever had a problems with mental health. Even people who think themselves to be mentally healthy should reconsider and find a good therapist who they feel comfortable with. This can do wonders to keep you stable when you go through periods of mental problems especially if you make a habit of it. People with more extreme mental health issues such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder or PTSD should definitely see a therapist regularly and get psychological evaluations done. A caring professional can often help motivate you to take better care of yourself and be an anchor especially if you have no one else to confide in.
The mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that lift your mood and provide added energy. Regular exercise or activity can have a major impact on mental and emotional health problems, relieve stress, improve memory, and help you to sleep better.
An unhealthy diet can take a toll on your brain and mood as well. Conversely, switching to a wholesome diet, low in sugar and rich in healthy fats, can give you more energy, improve your sleep and mood, and help you to look and feel your best.
Engaging work that provides meaning to yourself and others. Partake in activities that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive, whether or not you get paid for them. Some ideas are gardening, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, or building something in your workshop.
Relationships. Spending quality time where you give of yourself to people who matter to you, whether they’re friends, grandchildren, or elderly relatives, can support both your health and theirs, while also providing a sense of purpose.
Caring for a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for one makes you feel needed and loved. There’s no love quite as unconditional as the love a pet can give. Animals can also get you out of the house for exercise and expose you to new people and places.
Volunteering. Just as we’re hard-wired to be social, we’re also hard-wired to give to others. The meaning and purpose derived from helping others or the community can enrich and expand your life — and make you happier. There’s no limit to the individual and group volunteer opportunities you can explore. Schools, churches, nonprofits, and charitable organizations of all sorts depend on volunteers for their survival.
Care giving. Taking care of an aging parent, a handicapped spouse, or a child with a physical or mental illness is an act of kindness, love, and loyalty — and can be as rewarding and meaningful as it is challenging.
Here’s what’s good for your mental health:
- You’ve always been told to eat all your veggies — and it’s a pretty good point! Many fruits and vegetables contain what’s known as ‘complex carbohydrates’, which are great for brain health. By releasing energy into our bodies slowly, complex carbohydrates found in fruit and veg can perk up our mood over time.Many colored fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants and vitamins which help us deal with stress. So if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or are going through a rough time, upping your fruit and veg intake could help you feel better.
- Whole grains are high in fibre and really good for you! These include things like corn, brown rice, quinoa, oats, rye and barley.The great news is, whole grains contain a type of amino acid that makes your body produce ‘serotonin’ — also known as the “happy chemical”! Serotonin helps calm the mind, improve your mood, and keep your sleep cycle on track — all of which is helpful for maintaining a good head space.
- Fermented foods like unsweetened yogurts, kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut are thought to affect the same parts of your brain as some anti-depressants do. Eating more of them can help with feelings related to anxiety and depression. The good bacteria in fermented foods directly influences our mood and emotions. Heaps of research links gut health to mental health, and the probiotics and prebiotics in fermented foods actively affect the environment of our stomachs.
- Oily fish like salmon, trout and prawns contain a special fatty acid known as DHA which is an awesome ‘brain food’! It helps with memory, and can boost your mood and reduce anxiety. Fish also contains omega 3 acids which are great for brain function, and help circulate serotonin and dopamine — feel-good chemicals — around your body. By fitting more fish into your diet, you’ll be helping improve feelings of depression while boosting your memory ability (2).
What to avoid?
- Trans fats or anything to do with ‘partially hydrogenated’ oil
- Sugary snacks
- Foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones
- Fried food
- Refined carbs (such as white rice and white flour)
- Drug use
If you lead a busy life, cutting back on sleep may seem like a smart move. But when it comes to your mental health, getting enough sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Skipping even a few hours here and there can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. And over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on your health and outlook.
While adults should aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night, it’s often unrealistic to expect sleep to come the moment you lay down and close your eyes. Your brain needs time to unwind at the end of the day. That means taking a break from the stimulation of screens — TV, phone, tablet, computer — in the two hours before bedtime, putting aside work, and postponing arguments, worrying, or brainstorming until the next day.