One of the most important things you can do for yourself is looking after and improve your mental health. In fact, caring for your mental health is a critical part of holistic medical care and should not be neglected by you or your healthcare team.
By caring for your mental health, you have a greater quality of life and life satisfaction. The best part? It's a simple step you can take. Read on to find out more.
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Part of looking out for your mental health involves building better resilience.¹ Your mental health influences your daily life in terms of how you behave, think, and feel. Mental well-being also determines how you cope with stress, recover from hardships, overcome challenges, and build relationships.
Having strong mental health means you have several positive qualities that help you effectively meet your daily challenges while pursuing a life that feels meaningful. You may be content in your life, have a zest for living, can deal with stress, and feel equipped to persevere through adversity.
Other qualities of good mental health include:
A positive sense of well-being
Ability to have fun and laugh
A drive to learn skills
Feeling a sense of purpose
Being flexible and adapting to change
Fostering a work-life balance
Ability to build and maintain relationships
It's important to recognize that just because you have good mental health doesn’t mean you don't have emotional problems. Life is filled with challenges, loss, and change. However, there is a link between resilience and mental health, where stronger mental health makes it easier to bounce back from trauma, stress, and adversity.²
Emotionally and mentally resilient individuals have coping skills for difficult situations and are able to maintain a positive outlook. These people can stay focused, productive, and flexible, not just in good times but also in bad. Resilient individuals are less afraid of uncertainty and new experiences. When faced with problems, they remain hopeful that a solution will develop.
Mental or emotional health problems can occur to anyone. Over our lifetimes, most people will experience mental health issues at one time or another. In fact, about one in every five people has a diagnosed mental health condition.³
Despite the commonality of mental health problems, it is common for people to attempt to ignore or “power through” their mental health issues. For example, we ignore emotional messages that signal a problem and try to "tough it out" by distracting ourselves or by self-medicating, which can lead to addiction.
We keep our problems to ourselves, hoping others won't recognize them and that the situation will improve independently. Or, we accept that things are the way they are with no hope for change. It doesn't have to be this way, though. You can take steps to counteract these problems and get the help you need to find mental wellness again.
Despite today's evolved and educated world, many people are not willing or are unable to address mental health needs. This happens for many different reasons.
Societal norms, for example, may prohibit discussing mental health concerns. In fact, in some societies, mental and emotional health are not seen as the same level of physical issues. They are viewed as being less legitimate, as a sign of weakness, or the sufferer’s fault. Often, people also lack resources, psychoeducation, or awareness of how even to begin seeking help.
Mental health problems can strike anyone at any time, and there is no discrimination, rhyme, or reason for the condition. Similar to conditions like asthma or diabetes, many mental health conditions have physiological causes that contribute to chemical imbalances and dysfunction in the brain. This leads to many of the emotional and behavioral symptoms that people experience. Mental health conditions can also be chronic, meaning that people must manage these symptoms for the rest of their lives.
In some cases, mental health problems are viewed as something that we should just be able to "overcome" or "snap out of." This isn't always possible and, in many cases, can lead to worsening of symptoms. Men, in particular, are less inclined to seek professional help for their mental health issues.
People may also feel like working on mental health is a daunting task. The symptoms of mental illness can make it very difficult to feel motivated or driven to seek out wellness behaviors. However, it is in these cases that you likely need help the most. Reaching out to a loved one or a professional to share your mental health challenges can be extremely rewarding and help create momentum that results in positive changes.
When should I seek professional help?
If you've consistently made efforts to improve your mental health but still notice a lack of optimal functioning, you may need professional help. Self-help is a great option, but sometimes, it can only do so much in improving mental and emotional health. You will want to seek emergency psychiatric help if you are experiencing major shifts in personality, such as suicidality or self-harm thoughts.
Needing help doesn't mean you've failed. It means you're strong enough to recognize you can't do it on your own and need someone to help you. Just like how you’d seek out a physical therapist or personal trainer to help you overcome a bodily injury or get in better shape, therapists help us create wellness plans for our minds.
Whether or not you seek out professional help, you can always take steps to improve your mental health on your own.
This section focuses on those steps you can take right now that don't rely on a healthcare team.⁴ These steps can be complementary to any wellness plan you participate in with professionals.
Talk about how you feel
By talking about how you feel, you'll be more aware of your mental health status, which will help keep a positive frame of mind and deal with challenging times. It can also be very therapeutic to write out how you feel in a journal. Working through your complex emotions and reactions to the world around you can help you understand many of the patterns and triggers that influence your well-being.
Stay physically active
Many people don't always notice the link between physical activity and mental health. By engaging in regular exercise, the brain and other vital organs are kept healthy, which helps with mental health.
Exercise has physiological benefits which impact mood directly by restoring balance and even boosting feel-good brain chemicals. You'll also see benefits in your ability to concentrate and sleep, and you may even notice a boost in your self-esteem.
Follow a healthy diet
To stay healthy and function effectively, your brain needs a wide mix of nutrients. Eating good food helps provide these nutrients, which helps your mental health.
A diet high in processed foods and simple sugars can negatively impact your brain’s chemistry which can also negatively affect sleep and mood. Aim to eat healthy whole foods 80% of the time for optimal health.
Limit your alcohol intake
Frequently, alcohol is consumed to alter one’s mood or to deal with negative emotions, such as fear or loneliness. However, alcohol is ultimately toxic to the body and significantly alters brain chemistry, and disrupts sleep. As such, drinking can help reduce emotional pain initially but tends to be detrimental to your health and mental well-being as it gets metabolized.
A great way to boost your mental health is to keep in touch with others face-to-face. However, that's not always possible, so calling, writing, emailing, texting, or instant messaging systems are great alternatives.
It can feel challenging to reach out when you don’t feel well, but most of the struggles each of us faces are relatable, and everyone enjoys connecting with people who care about them. You can also seek out support groups online to find people who are experiencing similar challenges as you. However you do it, it's important to keep communication lines open.
Change your environment
Even if it's just going to the coffee shop to enjoy a cup of coffee instead of making one at home, a change of scenery can help you improve your mental health and force you to dress up and feel “normal” when things aren’t going well.
Other options include taking a break from your usual routine, going out for lunch somewhere new, or taking a weekend getaway. In some cases, you only need a few minutes to recharge and boost your mental health. Try making a list of activities you’ve wanted to try and begin working your way through them.
Engage in your hobbies
Do something you like to do. By doing something you enjoy, you'll boost your mental health by de-stressing. Learning new hobbies has positive effects on your brain structure and chemistry, which can significantly boost well-being.
Accept yourself as you are
Everyone has flaws. However, a powerful tool for mental health is loving yourself, flaws and all. Accept that you're unique and there is no one exactly like you in the world. Embrace your individuality and, at the same time, boost your confidence by learning new skills, exploring new places, and meeting new people. This all helps build your self-esteem and mental health by giving you options for success.
Nobody has to be perfect. Everyone has flaws, and learning to sit with and accept yourself exactly how you are is a vital step to meeting your best life.
The trick to good mental health is awareness. Be aware of how you're feeling and keep track of these differences. It's not always possible to prevent mental health problems, but by following the tips in this article, you'll have an idea of what you can do to help and when you need to seek help from a professional.
Remember, not all problems can be solved with these tips, but you can use them to strengthen your mental and emotional resilience. Seeking professional help is not a bad thing and can be the best option for you.
Many of the patterns and habits we carry that decrease our sense of well-being were built in childhood, and working with a professional can teach you new and healthier ways of interacting with your world. Overall, seeking professional help and engaging in these tips can lead you to a powerful new path towards positive mental and emotional health.