Staying Mentally Well

It is Mental Health Awareness Week from 12th - 18th May 2014 so I thought it may be helpful to share some ways in which you or a loved one can stay well. 

1. Social Activity
Doing something that gets you into contact with people every week can be vital for staying mentally well.  We are all different and require different levels of social contact but doing something with others can be an important way of reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. The activity doesn't need to be anything big and grand.  It could be something small like going for a coffee with a friend, volunteering, joining a club or class, spending time with family, going to a faith organisation or attending a meeting or appointment with a professional.  

2. Sleep well
Good quality sleep is important for both your physical and mental well being.  If you have trouble sleeping try to avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine in the last few hours before bed.  Take time each evening to wind down by doing something light and relaxing such as having a warm bath, reading a good book or listening to the radio or music.  Try and avoid activities that are stimulating like heavy exercise, eating a big meal or playing fast paced computer games. 

3. Keep Active
Scientists have found that doing an exercise or activity that gets you out of breath and increases your heart rate releases chemicals in the brain similar to taking a low dose of an anti depressant.  Doing something physically active doesn't have do mean doing a formal exercise class or going to the gym.  It can include going for a walk, taking your dog for a walk or doing some gardening or housework.   

4.  Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating regular meals will help keep your blood sugar levels from dipping too low and affecting your mood. Try to eat a mix of foods including a variety of fruit and vegetables and avoid over indulging in sweet or fatty foods.  Eating complex carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, rice and cous cous will help you to stay fuller for longer and release energy slowly throughout the day.  

5.  Meaningful Activity
Doing an activity which is meaningful to you can help improve confidence and self esteem.  It's important to stress that activity needs to be something that matters to you.  It's good to get advice from others but ultimately you will feel the most benefit from doing an activity or pastime that has significance to you.  This could be voluntary work, a hobby, exercise, spending time with family, spending time with pets, studying, working, attending a support group or doing jobs around the home. You are looking for activities that give you a sense of accomplishment and achievement. 

6.  Relaxation
Learning to relax will help you to manage your stress levels and help to keep you feeling both physically and mentally healthy.  If you are someone that struggles with stress or anxiety then you may find it helpful to learn some guided relaxation or guided meditation techniques.  You can learn these through a search of the internet, visiting your local library or finding a class or group in your local area.  Many yoga classes include some meditation/relaxation exercise so that may also be an avenue to check.  Other exercises such as tai chi, swimming, pilates and walking can also be good for helping you unwind. 

7.  Assertiveness
Assertiveness is the ability to express your needs and wishes in a way that is clear without being passive or aggressive.  It's a skill that takes practise but will help you to express yourself calmly and clearly.  Learning to be more assertive often involves the use of 'I' statements such as 'I would like', 'I need' or 'I can' and involves the individual owning the statements they are making about themselves.  It's often easy to slip into bad habits which can lead you into making statements about yourself that are defensive or blaming of others.  Learning to be more assertive will also help you to deal with others who you find bullying and will teach you how to say 'no'.
 
8.  Self Awareness
Getting to know yourself and what stresses you out and what helps you relax will help you to better recognise the early warning signs of becoming unwell.  Using tools like mood diaries (found for free here) will help you to understand how you are feeling on a day to day basis and when your mood is best and when you are feeling your lowest.  It will help identify triggers and any patterns to your moods.  This will help you to predict when you may feel worse and enable you to put systems in place to counteract these changes.  They can also help to reassure you that feelings are temporary and will help you explain to a professional or loved one how you have been feeling over a given period.

9. Ask For Help
It is often tough for people to do this, especially when it relates to mental health.  This is partly due to the stigma that still surrounds mental health and mental ill health.  It can also be symptomatic of the condition you may need help with.  For instance, depression can be very adept at making you feel worthless and to blame for your mood.  It's important to remember that these feelings of low self worth and inadequacy are symptoms of the illness rather than personality flaws.  People from all walks of life and all backgrounds are vulnerable to mental ill health.  Like all illnesses it's always best to seek professional support, especially if the illness is affecting your ability to function.

Learn more about Essential Life Skills by visiting www.essentiallifeskills.org

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