3 Ways To Support and Improve Mental Health
3 Ways To Support and Improve Mental Health
Mental Health Awareness – a few facts!
Approximately 1 in 4 people are developing a mental health illness in the UK each year. The most common is Depression, followed by Stress and Anxiety, Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar Disorder. Mental health problems are becoming more difficult for people to cope with due to many other modern stressors such as financial issues and home/work pressures. As a result of this difficulty, suicide and self harm rates are on the increase. Suicide is most common among 20-34 year olds. Suicide rates are up to 3x higher for men who may struggle more to talk about depression or suicidal thoughts or get formal help.
Mental Health Illness- Stigma and Misconception
Mental health disorders still carry a great deal of stigma with them. This means that a person with mental health issues is not only trying to cope with the illness they have, they are also living with the stigma attached to it. The media, bad press and inaccurate representation has played a big role in the misconception around certain conditions and the stigma that’s resulted from them. For instance, it’s a fact that Schizophrenia receives the most bad press and misrepresentation of any other mental health disorder. Due to the misconceptions around mental health, many people suffer and struggle in silence- and all this does is exacerbate their symptoms.
Improving Mental Health Awareness
These facts are just a drop in the ocean. I am writing this article to hopefully raise some awareness, because it is only through greater knowledge that we can help ourselves and others. No one is immune to a mental health illness. It could happen to anyone at any time, and even the most strongest, seemingly “have it all together” people have their breaking point. Through heightened awareness, we can learn the signs and symptoms of mental health issues that are largely unseen and beyond the surface. We can look beyond the smile and genuinely open up a dialogue that supports a person to share their true thoughts, concerns and feelings. This is rather than the acceptable and expected response of “I’m OK”.
In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
That being said, here are are 3 ways to support and improve your mental health!
1. Manage Stress
As children, we are not taught how to manage stress. It needs to be something we learn. Some people are better at managing stress than others, but as mentioned earlier- everyone has a breaking point. The physical body cannot deal with a constant overload of stress. Cortisol- the main stress hormone, alongside Adrenaline are the body’s innate alarm system for protection and survival. They are self regulated to prompt the “fight, flight, or freeze” response when faced with perceived danger, harm or threat. When these hormones go into overdrive, they create massive imbalance that affects day-to-day function, quality and quantity of sleep, appetite, and many other hormonal processes that can impact all systems in the body including the immune system, reproductive system, and digestive system.
Stress sends your brain and body into a kind of spasm, whereby you feel constantly on edge. This can lead to anxiety, depression, panic disorders and other mental health issues. Many of the brain’s receptors are highly sensitive to Cortisol.
It’s inevitable that you will deal with some kind of stress perhaps every few days. Normal levels of stress can be a good thing because it provides a person with the edge and motivation to achieve a particular goal or complete a task. Stress becomes an issue when there is no respite from it and it begins to negatively impact your life including work, home life, relationships and overall health.
You can manage stress better by recognising the signs and symptoms of too much stress and anxiety.
1. These will include how you feel. For instance, feeling more irritable, aggressive, anxious, burdened, and depressed. You may lose interest in things you once enjoyed.
2. How you behave. For instance, developing unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking too much alcohol, biting your nails, avoiding people and situations that are causing you worry, snapping at people and acting out of character, or defensively.
3. And physical symptoms. For instance, high blood pressure, an inability to sleep or eat well, feeling tired more frequently, experiencing headaches, feeling sick and losing interest in sex.
There are many self help techniques that can help manage stress. These include low-moderate intensity physical activities such as walking or going for a run, yoga, a dance class, or a particular sport that boosts your mood and esteem. Talking to people you trust and opening up about your fears, worries, and concerns can provide you with emotional support to help relieve stress. Stress requires an emphasis on self care to improve. This may include taking some time out and reducing your workload, implementing a better sleep routine, eating more healthily, and perhaps using relaxation and breathing techniques. Other types of therapy such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) may be an option.
The important thing to remember is to get formal help when you feel like you cannot manage stress through self help or if symptoms continue to worsen. Lots of advice and support is available online through MIND, Rethink, Time to Change, and other organisations.
2. Physically Activity and Overall Health
Exercise and staying physically active is one of the best ways to support and improve your mental health. Many people with a mental health illness are advised to exercise due to its benefits on both mind and body. Physical activity increases the production of “feel good” hormones such as Serotonin which help to lift your mood and increase your sense of well being. Some studies have indicated that exercise can reduce the risk of depression by up to 25%. Alongside the benefits to well being, physical activity aids in better neural activity (including brain cell growth), focus, a sharper memory, cognitive ability and alertness. It can assist in improving the quality of your sleep, reduce inflammation within the body, and help to relieve stress through the increased production of endorphins that chemically reduce the perception of pain and stress. In essence, they provide an analgesic effect.
Stress can immobilize you and leave you feeling very stuck in a negative and life-draining cycle. Exercise helps to break that cycle. There are way too many benefits of exercise to go into on this article alone.
And the great thing is, you do not need to spend hours in the gym. Short bouts of exercise on a daily basis or at least 3-5 times a week are highly effective. Even a 15-20 minute walk each day is enough to provide benefits to both your mind and body. Aim to do something that you enjoy, doing what you love is the best motivator to sustain anything in life. Exercise can also improve your mental and emotional resiliency. It enables you to feel stronger, improves your self esteem, and helps to release stagnant thoughts and emotions. It is a healthy coping mechanism for life’s inevitable challenges.
Suffocated emotions end up as repeated cycles of pain that impact our mental well being also.If we cannot speak our truth and share our pain for fear of stigma and judgement then those emotions rattle inside our mind as shame, non-acceptance, and fuel an impaired sense of self image- Christine Evangelou/Quotes
3. Enhance Awareness and Self Awareness
Awareness and self awareness improves your ability to change trajectory when needed. When you are self aware, you learn to understand yourself better. You show compassion to yourself and are able to observe your moods, motives and behaviours effectively. If you are able to understand and notice any triggers that may impact your mental health such as an overload of work, difficult relationships, or financial issues, then you are better equipped to be honest with yourself and make changes where needed for the benefit of your health.
Awareness Inspires Truth
Denial and pretending you aren’t feeling stressed or burdened creates a cycle of lies because you are not being truthful with yourself first and foremost. If you are suffering with stress or anxiety but you don’t admit this to yourself, and take steps to manage it better- it can become gradually worse over time. Many people with mental health issues may deny they exist. They begin to isolate themselves because of the stigma attached to mental health illness. They don’t want to appear weak and be misjudged by their friends, family, or society. Sometimes it is hard to admit that you are struggling. You may look around at others and think “they seem to manage and have it all together, why can’t I?”. We don’t want to face what may be deemed as an inability to cope, by ourselves as well as others.
But everyone is unique. Each person deals with their challenges differently. You cannot compare how you get through your tough times to how someone else does. Self awareness helps you to retreat back to yourself and broadens your perspectives. It opens up an inner dialogue with self.
Talking through your difficulty and stresses can help to alleviate them. Talking assists in helping you find solutions in order to feel better and tackle any challenges more powerfully. Expressing yourself is therapeutic. Admitting you are struggling a little is actually a great strength and not a weakness at all. Awareness helps to improve your powers of perception and show kindness and humility for your humanness.
As your own self awareness improves, this extends outwardly to those around you. You may be able to perceive/notice the signs of poor mental health in someone else around you. And that is both a beautiful and powerful thing because it puts you in a position to help them. Self awareness alters your mental state and fortifies your emotional intelligence.
How Can You Improve Self Awareness?
Here are some ways you can develop, improve and support self awareness:
- Take time to self-reflect. This may mean looking back upon your day and thinking to yourself how you could have made it better. Think of how you can alter your emotional responses, behaviours and reactions to move forward. Don’t look back in order to chastise yourself for what went wrong with your day. Self-reflect through a lens of love and compassion.
- Keep a diary or a journal. Noting down your thoughts and emotions helps to see them more objectively and clearly. This can highlight any emotional triggers that affect you and others around you.
- Practice mindfulness techinques or meditation. Meditation does not need to be static. You can gain clarity through a walk in the park just as well as you can by sitting on a mat. Don’t force yourself to sit down and meditate- this is counterproductive. Look for clarity and find presence in a way that suits you as a person. Listening to music can also have a meditative effect.
- Ask for feedback on others perception of you. Sometimes what we do not see within ourselves is visible to someone else that knows, loves and cares about us. The important thing is to not be defensive when receiving feedback. Be open to how others see you and reflect upon what they say with an open mind. Encourage honesty within yourself and your relationships.
- Set yourself goals and understand your priorities. Having focus and being attentive to what you want to accomplish helps to streamline your motivation and direct your thoughts positively. Having goals helps define purpose and meaning in what you are doing and/or wish to achieve.
Self Awareness enhances sensitivity, empathy, and compassion. It is a skill that you can develop through practice and a focus on self care.
Supporting Mental Health
I just completed a level 2 qualification in mental health problems. It’s worthwhile to take a course on mental health awareness if you can. There is also a wealth of information online from MIND, Mental Health Foundation, Time to Change, Rethink, Young Minds and lots more.
Poor mental health is something that is rarely visible to the outside world. It’s easy to notice a broken limb, an injured back or physical disability. It is much harder to observe the mental hurt and pain that arises through a mental health illness. This should only inspire greater awareness and action to support ourselves as individuals, and others around us also. Don’t be afraid to talk, share your concerns, and be there for people; we are all human and no one is invincible or immune to difficulty.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this article and found it helpful. Please share to someone you care for, thanks, Chrissy 🙂 And if this one doesn’t fit, please check out my other motivation and well being articles.
Categorised as: Well Being and Mindfulness