Our mental health is a fragile thing. Our emotions are rooted in 5 core emotions that govern how respond to the world. Joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness blend together to create the sensations we experience on a day-to-day basis.
However, as in the case of the Disney Pixar movie: Inside Out, it’s possible for one emotion to override the others. Our Fear (anxiety) and Sadness (depression) can start to ride the controls and that’s when we get in to trouble.
Maintaining our mental health is about filling our lives with positives (and positive people) so Joy and even Anger (in the case of competitive sports) can take over.
Admittedly this is an over simplification of the incredibly complex areas of mental health but at its very core, this is essentially what we’re trying to achieve.
Here are our top 5 things you can do to protect your mental health:
1. Talk about how you feel
Being honest with yourself and with others is not just an important pillar in maintaining your mental health but vital to retain healthy relationships.
It’s easy to assume that your friends won’t want to hear how you’re really feeling but take it from us: if they are true friends; they absolutely will.
However, talking about how you feel needs to include everything. If you don’t like the way a friend is behaving towards you – maybe they never reply to messages or always cancel plans – it is perfectly acceptable to say so.
2. Be kind to yourself
Anyone who’s ever been on a flight will have sat through a safety briefing. Anyone who’s been on several flights will more or less ignore every word.
However there’s a really important life message buried in that speech:
‘Should the cabin experience sudden pressure loss, oxygen masks will drop down from above your seat. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, like this. Pull the strap to tighten it. Make sure that your own mask is on first before helping others.’
In other words, make sure you’re okay before helping others. Be compassionate to yourself. Forgive yourself for mistakes both big and small. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re too tired after a long day to go to the gym.
Sometimes it’s just okay to go home and have an early night.
Equally, praise yourself when you do something well. Accept praise from others, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Just say thank you. After a while the praise will start to sink in.
Eat regularly and healthily.
Try to avoid processed food, alcohol and keep caffeine to a minimum.
Whilst this advice usually provokes a response from our old friend Disgust, improving or maintaining good mental health means cutting out things that change the chemical balances in our brains which includes stimulants and depressants.
The fact is all the chemicals in process foods can have a direct impact on our brains and spark cycles of anxiety or depression.
A balanced diet will not only help with your mental health but your physical health too. Which also helps with being compassionate to yourself too.
4. Be Active
Physical exercise is the obvious solution here. Taking part in a sport gives Joy and Anger a healthy run out (that competitive need to win is rooted in Anger) as well as being good for you physically.
It doesn’t matter what exercise you opt for as long as you do something. Even better if you can exercise with someone. Mountain biking on your own can get a bit tiresome if you don’t have someone with you to (a) admire the view and (b) help you to pull your bike out of the mud.
However, being active goes deeper than this. It’s about filling your days with fun, positive things. Seeing friends, catching a movie, indulging in hobbies, going for walks. Whatever it is, aim to do at least one ‘fun thing’ a week, on top of exercising.
Recognise it’s important to take a break. Work will always be busy. There will always be more work to do. If there wasn’t you wouldn’t have a job. So recognise that staying late night after night is solving nothing. It actually masks the problem that there is a process, capacity or staffing issue. Or all of the above.
Granted this is often easier said than done but you should set yourself a limit that you will stay no later by. Ultimately it is the bosses problem (unless you are the boss) to make sure there are sufficient people and robust process to get the work done within your contracted hours.
In addition to keeping your evenings and trying to do one ‘fun thing’ a week, try to plan holidays and weekends away. These don’t have to be expensive or even abroad. Devon can feel like the Riviera on a hot sunny day.
On a simpler level, make sure you take short breaks away throughout your working day and that you take your full lunch break and if possible, don’t eat at your desk. There’s a reason why breaks are legally required so take the opportunity to recharge.
At a base level, these things can help maintain your mental health or help improve it if you’re experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety.
However if you are experiencing difficulties then we recommend contacting services that can offer immediate support.
If you’d like to know more about how we support individuals with enduring mental health issues, contact us today.