What is Mental Health?
Mental health is a state of emotional and social wellbeing. 1 in 5 Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year (ABS, 2007) and many more of us experience intense emotional and psychological symptoms when life becomes stressful.
Why do we need to look after it?
Out mental health has an effect on how individuals cope with life’s stressors and influences one’s capacity to reach their potential (Australian Health Ministers, 2003).
What are some practical ways in which you can look after your mental health?
Maintaining or building a connection with friends and family can help us feel supported and connected.
Observe Good Nutrition
Fuelling your body with healthy foods, and feeding yourself with the right nutrients will serve both your body and your mind well. Alcohol consumption can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. Drinking is not a productive way to manage negative feelings.
Being active and engaging in exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. It can also boost your self-esteem, improve concentration and improve sleep. Exercise doesn’t just include sporting or going to the gym, but can be simple tasks such as gardening, housework and walks in the park.
Mindfulness is the process in which we teach our minds to be present. Mindfulness does not eliminate stress altogether, but by becoming aware of unpleasant thoughts that arise because of challenging situations, we develop the skills to better handle them in the moment. Mindfulness can actually change the shape of the brain, reducing the size of the amygdala which is responsible for stress and increasing the size of the pre frontal cortex, the part of our brains responsible for emotional regulations (headspace.com). Many mindfulness exercises and apps exist online. Check out HeadSpace for mindfulness activities.
Care for others
Extending kindness to others is a way of strengthening and maintaining important connections. It can often feel uplifting when we extend kindness to others.
Do something you are good at
Have you heard the saying “Idle hands make fretful minds”? Hobbies or activities can help us realise a sense of achievement and provide a sense of grounding. If you can’t think of anything you like doing, try something new! Drawing, painting, gardening, cooking, woodwork… the possibilities are endless.
Ask for help
Be curious about your feelings. If you feel consistently overwhelmed and unable to cope, seeking help is very important. It can be as simple as making an appointment with your local GP. Your GP will be able to guide you through your options inclusive of subsidised counselling through a mental health care plan.
References / Further information
1) Australian Health Ministers, July 2003. National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008. Retrieved 12 June 2008 from http://www.health.gov.au/
2) Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.