This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK, a campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation to raise awareness of mental health issues and offer advice to those who suffer.
Mental health has become a hot topic over the past few months, largely in part to efforts by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry with the 'Heads Together Campaign'. The Mental Health Foundation is taking a refreshing new angle on the topic by not only asking why so many people are living with mental health problems, but also looking at what it means to have good mental health with the theme “Surviving or Thriving”.
What Does it Mean to Have Good Mental Health?
In a 2017 survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, only 13% of people reported that they lived with high levels of good mental health, with nearly two thirds of people admitting that they had experienced a mental health problem.
Being in a state of good mental health is not just about living without a mental health issue. Having good mental health enables us to think, act and feel in a way that allows us to enjoy life and cope with the challenges and uncertainties it throws at us. It allows us to excel in our careers, build lasting relationships and appreciate the small moments that build meaningful memories.
Take the mental health foundation test to find out what your mental health score is and visit their website for more information on how to get involved in mental health awareness week.
10 Ways to Look After Your Mental Health
Much like with our physical health, it is important that we dedicate time and effort into activities and actions that will help us build and maintain a good level of mental health. The Mental Health Foundation has detailed 10 steps you can take to help with your mental health.
1. Talk about your feelings
We can all be guilty of bottling up our feelings out of fear of being judged, however talking about your problems, particularly those that have been on your mind for a while, is key to taking charge of your mental health.
Opening up to a family member, friend or colleague will not only help you feel less alone, it also opens up the doors to new solutions of how to manage or fix your problem.
2. Keep active
There is overwhelming evidence to show that regular exercise can help reduce the risk of major physical illnesses as well as help with our mental health by boosting self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy.
You don’t have to run a marathon to feel the benefits, factoring just 150 minutes of exercise over the week by going for walks during your lunch break, taking the stairs instead of the lift, cycling to work or even taking to a fitness class will help reduce stress and make you feel better.
3. Eat well
A healthy diet is one of the best preventative measures to major illnesses as well as maintaining steady energy and mood levels throughout the day. High amounts of sugar and caffeine can cause blood and insulin levels to soar by 20-30%, before crashing down leaving us feeling tired, irritable, anxious, and dehydrated with a terrible headache.
Drinking plenty of water and opting for foods rich in healthy fats and protein along with fruits, vegetables, nuts and yoghurt will keep you full of energy all day while boosting your mood and making you feel healthy and happy.
4. Drink sensibly
Alcohol is often seen as an escape mechanism for mental health issues. Many people turn to drink as a way to alter their mood or to deal with fear or loneliness, however the come down effect can actually make us feel worse. As well as feeling physically sick and dehydrated, the classic ‘hangover’, we can end up feeling even more isolated and angry with ourselves.
Occasional light drinking with family and friends is an enjoyable experience for most people, but it’s important to stay within the recommeneded daily alcohol limits: 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women.
5. Keep in touch
Spending time with people we love can help ease the stresses of daily life. Having fun with friends and family can instantly boost your mood and make you feel valued. They also offer support and guidance through hard times, keeping you grounded and helping you solve your problems.
Catching up with people in person is best, but if it's not possible to see someone face to face, try giving them a call or sending them a message online. Communication is key!
6. Ask for help
We all need help from time to time. Doing too many things at once can become overwhelming and leave us vulnerable. Maintaining open communication with your manager, friends and family and discussing your workload can help reduce your tasks and solve any problems you may be having.
7. Take a break
When things get too much, dedicating some important time to de-stress can help clear your mind and leave you feeling refreshed. This can be a 5 minute break from your desk, an evening walk or even a few days exploring somewhere new.
Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, breathing or yoga are a great way of paying attention to the present moment and making us more aware of any thoughts and feelings.
8. Do something you’re good at
For those dealing with intense mental and emotional pressure, doing something you enjoy can focus the mind and reduce stress. If you enjoy a particular activity, it also means you're probably good at it, which in itself can give us a feeling of achievement and boost self-esteem.
Whatever it is you enjoy; cooking, playing a sport, knitting, reading, make sure you dedicate some 'me time' during your week.
9. Accept who you are
Everybody is different. Some of us are funny, some of us are clever, some of us like the colour pink while other prefer green. Our opinions and preferences are what makes us all unique and having confidence in who you are is much healthier than comparing yourself to others.
Focusing on your strengths and achievements, accepting any mistakes you make along the way and surrounding yourself with supportive people will help boost your self-esteem, giving you the confidence to be yourself.
10. Care for others
Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. We know that those who suffer with mental health are often too embarrassed or scared to discuss their feelings. With 1 in 4 people throughout the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year, you never know who around you needs a helping hand.
The Mental Health Foundation has put together a number of useful ‘How to…’ guides on topics on how to improve your mental health, including sleep, mindfulness, exercise and fear and anxiety. They can all be viewed directly on their website and are available for order.
Do you prefer listening to reading? They also have a number of videos and podcasts covering wellbeing, nutrition and stress, along with interviews with those who have experienced mental health problems.