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Over the past decade or so, mental health has been slowly emerging from the shadows. Society has come a long way, thanks in no small part to public figures and governments championing the need to address mental health as an essential and holistic part of our wellbeing. We are beginning to think differently, and communicate more openly on topics from stress and anxiety to addiction and loneliness, and accept them for what they always were – part of the human condition.
And yet, although a huge amount of progress has been made, there is still a way to go when it comes to confronting these sticky issues, especially with workplace settings and often in our own families. The feelings of shame, pride and self-worth becoming caught up in these other conditions can still make it incredibly hard for individuals to seek help. If you or someone you know is caught in the grip of a mental health issue it can be all-consuming, and extremely hard to know where to begin with addressing it. The linger stigma on the topic makes it quite emotive to discuss openly – and it’s in the shadows of secrecy where these conditions tend to do best.
A huge part of the problem is the fact that people tend to regard those who have become mentally unwell as ‘other’ and regard it as something black-or-white, but that grouping is extremely unhelpful. The truth is that all of us operate on a constantly fluctuating scale, and the fact that we know that and are scared by it, is the driving force between making the kind of unhelpful all-or-nothing distinctions we do. Mental health is the parallel of physical health in that maladies can range from a mild cold to a life-threatening disease. Things can progress rapidly, or halt in their tracks. It isn’t a linear progression, and when you add to that the fact these conditions are largely invisible, you begin to see why so many problems are misdiagnosed, mishandled or ignored.
We all experience times when we feel super productive, well balanced and able to meet the challenges life brings us. Equally, it’s just as normal to go through times when you feel unable to cope and out of alignment. Everyone has times when the struggle is a bit harder and they need to seek support. It could be the fact that you’re becoming anxious and it’s affecting your sleep. It could be feeling overwhelmed by a big issue or lots of little small ones. It could be the realisation that you’re misusing something to help you cope emotionally, like alcohol or even something that seems benign on the surface, like exercise. Learning to monitor your own internal dialogue and tune into the warning signs is a massively positive attribute. And understanding that these blips are not only completely normal but perhaps even essential to maintain balance is another huge stride. Everyone is entitled to support – be it chatting things through with a close friend or seeking the advice of a professional. Just as we wouldn’t hesitate to seek surgery for an injured limb, so seeking therapy for an injured soul should become commonplace and accepted.
A lot of it seems at the margins of human experience when in fact, it should be front and centre. But while we are constantly bombarded with products and support for our bodies – from medications and vitamins, to gym memberships, diet food and exercise programs – when it comes to the mental side of things, advertisers and society as a whole is curiously silent. The answer lies in prevention as much as cure, and in little actions that you can take on a daily basis to check in with yourself and keep your moods and feelings in balance. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive – if we just pay a little attention to our state of mind and take a few small steps, the impact can be huge.
Healthy Body Healthy Mind
We cannot think of these two systems as separate – our physical and mental wellbeing are intimately linked, and have a symbiotic, cause-and-effect relationship with each other. The basics of good sleep hygiene, eating the right nutrients and getting exercise have been shown time and again in countless studies to provide the bedrock of great mental balance as well as longevity. Being overweight doesn’t just put you at risk of a host of health issues such as heart disease and diabetes but the wrong diet can also harm your cognitive abilities, your mood and your self-esteem. For that reason, it is absolutely vital to moderate the amounts of processed foods, refined sugar and salt that we are taking in and eat a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day, even taking a powdered supergreens supplement to boost our intake.Even gentle exercise outdoors such as a lunchtime power walk or something heavier like a bootcamp gets our hormones and brain chemicals in balance. It’s an essential keystone for managing everything from stress to conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and prescription painkiller addiction. The truth about medication assisted treatment is that it simply works better when coupled with the right diet, exercise and sleeping habits.
Give Your Time
Sometimes, when we are experiencing a tough time mentally, we withdraw into ourselves and lose perspective. Flip that on its head by giving your time to others. A look at some local volunteering opportunities will show that there are so many things you could be doing to help others, and at the same time boost your self-esteem, give you a new sense of purpose, connect you to your community and widen your horizon. Helping others makes us feel good about ourselves and brings us out of our own problems. There are few better actions you can carry out for your emotional health.
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Fire Up Your Friends
The people we choose to associate with can have a massive impact on our mood, so although it may sound trivial, it’s actually hugely important to purge your friends list of anyone who tends to bring you down or drain your energy. And conversely when you find those who build you up, fill you with positivity and act as your own personal cheerleaders, then aim to spend more time with them. A mental attitude, whether positive or negative, can be catching, and you need people in your corner who can inspire and uplift.
Tackle Your Bad Habits
Everyone has a vice or two. But when you begin using them as coping mechanisms, it’s time to tackle them and get serious about living a healthier life. It’s easy to confuse the short term release things like smoking or drinking give you with some kind of solution. But in fact, drinking to excess can cause depression while smoking too much leads to excess tension. Finding the motivation to tackle your bad habits isn’t easy, but it will definitely pay off to keep your mental health well balanced.
Know To Ask For Help
It’s okay to admit that things aren’t okay and in doing so, prevent more of a downward spiral from occurring. Simply reaching out to a friend you trust or confiding in a family member can sometimes be enough to let you talk through your situation and start to take positive action. Sometimes you may feel you need to seek further help from a professional counsellor or psychotherapist to really get to the root of your issues and tackle things head on. Opening up the lines of communication can only be a good thing for putting you more in control and helping to prevent things spiralling.