Often the word ‘mental health’ is directly linked to ‘mental illness’ but being mentally and emotionally healthy is more than just being free from mental illness.
Mental health is an important component to our overall health and wellbeing. Being mentally healthy can lead not only to improved physical wellbeing, but it can also strengthen our resilience to life’s ups and downs and determine how we handle stress and unexpected circumstances.
Mental health includes having positive feelings, a zest for life, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Just as our physical health requires care and attention, so too does our emotional wellbeing and it’s never a bad time to start improving your mental health.
Making mental health a priority in our everyday life can improve mood, self-esteem and help us build stronger relationships with others. Sadly, many of us overlook our mental health until trouble arises. Fortunately, there are key things that we can do to improve our mental health for the future. When reading and implementing these things into your life you should remember that everyone is different and what will work for one may not work for another.
- Improve physical health. Now, more than ever, we understand the strong connection between the mind and body. Being physically active has been shown to increase mood and lower risks for depression. Activities such as yoga also promote a sense of mindfulness and can decrease anxiety and stress. Practicing healthy habits everyday can lead to an improvement in mental health over time.
- Improve nutritional health. Eating a well balanced diet following Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating is a great place to start. Watch your portion sizes, limit your alcohol and caffeine intake, avoid added salt and drink plenty of water.
- Balancing work and life. Work can be a great source of mental stimulation. However, work and careers can also become stressful if it becomes out of balance. Leisure time allows us to feel good by increasing endorphins and decreasing stress. By engaging in activities that we enjoy on a regular basis, we learn to balance the demands of everyday life with our own needs and requirements.
- Manage stress effectively. Everyone has stress. Stress can come from both positive and negative events in our lives. Negative stress develops when we become unsure how to handle a situation or event. We all handle stress differently and understanding our response to stress and the emotions we attach to the situation can help us learn to deal with it more effectively. Avoiding situations that add to the business in our lives can also help with decreasing stress. Remember it is ok to say ‘no’ or ‘not now’ and to know your limits.
- Know your strength. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. When one can identify where they excel and where they don’t they are able to use there time more wisely. Embrace your strengths and offer to share them at the same time accept your limitations and do the best with what you have.
- Express yourself. Allow yourself to feel emotions and find someone you can discuss these emotions with. Learning positive ways to express your feelings like joy, happiness, surprise, anger and fear will aid with help you and others around cope with various situations.
- Stretch your brain. When your brain dies, the rest of you goes as well. There are great activities like Suduko, crossword puzzles, brain teasers and mind games to keep the brain active. Challenging work and problem solving is also excellent work for the brain.
- Get plenty of sleep. The body needs rest, just like it needs food. We need about 7-8 hours of sleep per day. The timing of sleep and depth of sleep are just as important as the number of hours we sleep. It is important to attempt going to sleep and waking at about the same time everyday. If you have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep you should try making a ‘to do list’, journaling, eating a light snack before bed, doing light stretching or relaxation breathing.
- Enjoy friends and family. Making time for friends and family can help you stay connected to what is important in your life. It gives you an opportunity to enjoy laughter, good food and conversation. You can turn to family and friends when in need but also be there to support them.
- Know when to seek help. If you feel that your mental and emotional health and not improving or are getting worse, asking for help may be the next step. Speak to your doctor or health care professional about how you are feeling.