What is mental health?
Mental health is about the way you think and feel and your ability to deal with ups and downs.
Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental health problem. If you have good mental health, you can:
• Make the most of your potential
• Cope with life
• Play a full part in your family, friends, workplace and community.
Some people call mental health ‘emotional health’ or ‘wellbeing’.
Mental health is everyone’s business. We all have times when we feel down, stressed or anxious. Most of the time those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into a more serious problem, and this could happen to any one of us.
Everyone is different. You may bounce back from a setback, while someone else may feel weighed down by it for a long time.
Your mental health doesn’t always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages in your life.
Unfortunately, stigma can be attached to mental health problems. This means that people feel uncomfortable about them and don’t talk about them much. Many people don’t even feel comfortable talking about their feelings. But it’s healthy to know and say how you’re feeling.
How to take care of your mental health
1. Talk about your feelings
Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.
Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.
Talking can be a way to cope with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Feeling listened to can help you feel more supported. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same.
It’s not always easy to describe how you’re feeling. If you can’t think of one word, use lots. What does it feel like inside your head? What does it make you feel like doing?
Many people feel more comfortable when these conversations develop naturally – maybe when you’re doing something together. If it feels awkward at first, give it time. Make talking about your feelings something that you do.
2. Keep active
Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and look and feel better.
Exercise keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy, and is also a significant benefit towards improving your mental health.
‘Experts say that most people should do about 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week. Try to make physical activity that you enjoy a part of your day.
3. Eat well
What we eat may affect how we feel – for example, caffeine and sugar can have an immediate effect.
But food can also have a long-lasting effect on your mental health. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health. A healthy, balanced diet includes:
• Lots of different types of fruit and vegetables
• Wholegrain cereals or bread
• Nuts and seeds
• Dairy products
• Oily fish
• Plenty of water
4. Drink sensibly
We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary.
When the drink wears off, you feel worse because of the way the alcohol has affected your brain and the rest of your body. Drinking is not a good way to manage difficult feelings.
Apart from the damage that too much alcohol can do to your body, you would need more and more alcohol each time to feel the same. This is called building ‘tolerance’ to the substance.
Drinking in moderation is perfectly healthy and enjoyable for most people.
5. Keep connected
Strong family ties and supportive friends can help you deal with the stresses of life. They can offer different views from whatever’s going on inside your own head. They can help keep you active, keep you grounded and can help you solve practical problems.
There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face to face, but that’s not always possible. You can also give them a call, drop them a note, or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open: it’s good for you.
It’s worth working at relationships that make you feel loved or valued. But, if you think being around someone is damaging your mental health, it may be best to take a break from them or call it a day completely. It’s possible to end a relationship in a way that feels okay for both of you.
6. Ask for help when you need it
None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things don’t go to plan.
If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear. Local services are also available should you need assistance.
7. Take a break
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health.
It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning
your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.
Taking a break may mean being very active. It may mean not doing very much at all. Take a deep breath… and relax. Try yoga or meditation, or just putting your feet up.
Listen to your body. If you’re really tired, give yourself time to sleep. Without good sleep, our mental health suffers and our concentration goes downhill. Sometimes the world can wait.
8. Do something you’re good at
What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past?
Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem. Concentrating on a hobby, like gardening or doing crosswords, can help you forget your worries for a while and can change your mood.
It can be good to have an interest where you’re not seen as someone’s parent, partner or employee. You’re just you.
9. Accept who you are
Some of us make people laugh, some are good at maths, and others cook fantastic meals.
Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live very differently.
We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else. Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends. Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.
Be proud of who you are. Recognise and accept the things you may not be good at, but also focus on what you can do well.
If there’s anything about yourself you would like to change, are your expectations realistic? If they are, work towards the change in small steps.
10. Care for others
Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.
Why not share your skills more widely by volunteering for a local charity? Helping out can make us feel needed and valued, and that boosts our self-esteem. It also helps us to see the world from another angle. This can help to put our own problems in perspective.
Caring for a pet can improve your wellbeing too. The bond between you and your pet can be as strong as between people. Looking after a pet can bring structure to your day and can act as a link to other people. For example, some people make friends by chatting to fellow dog walkers.
Everyone deserves to feel well!