Mental Health: Looking after yourself
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Teresa Mulvena, CBT Cert, MA Counselling, MBACP (senior accredited)
24th December, 2008
Good mental health isn't just the absence of mental health problems. Individuals with good mental health have the capacity to live a full and creative life and the flexibility to deal with life's inevitable challenges.
None of us ever are perfectly balanced. We are all human. Mental health becomes an issue when problems begin to affect daily functioning or leave you feeling overwhelmed. It is possible to take action to improve mental health before problems arise.
Improving your mental health
- Develop flexibility – Having high expectations of yourself or others leads to disappointment. Having very rigid opinions sets yourself up for stress. Asking yourself how much something really matters can change your outlook, and reduce your stress. Accepting all your feelings including sadness and anger, and being able to express them can improve your mental health.
- Having fun - and making time to do the things we enjoy. This includes a balance of activity and relaxation. There are many books, and audio tapes on relaxation techniques available. Yoga, meditation, and massage can all help with relaxation.
- Assertive communication - Being assertive is not about being stroppy and demanding but is more about respecting your own and others’ rights to be listened to. It encompasses a range of skills to express yourself including saying how you feel and what you want honestly and appropriately without becoming aggressive or it’s opposite - burying your feelings. Hiding how you feel can lead to a build up of feeling inside which can then lead to health problems of lead to an inappropriate outburst. Assertiveness training classes and books can improve your ability to handle such situations.
- Review - Take time to review the direction your life. We can want to change but change is not easy because it involves facing the unknown. Start with small achievable changes add up.
- Dealing with problems - Being unsure or overwhelmed can lead to procrastination. Although temporarily you get away from what is making you anxious, it can create a feeling of dread and irritability because of what is not dealt with. It can help to break a problem down and deal with it bit by bit, or ask for some help.
- Develop relationships that nurture you and increase your sense of connection to others
- Self Care - If there is a problem taking as much care of yourself as you do for others in may be useful to train yourself to think differently about this. Instead of thinking of it as selfish, self-indulgent, or unnecessary, reframe self care as essential for looking after yourself and building the capacity to cope with stress.
- Exercise has now been shown to have as much effect on mental health as taking antidepressant medication for some people. An advantage is that is free from side effects, - except for sore muscles when you begin.
- Cut down addictive substances – have less coffee, alcohol, nicotine and other addictive substances. Again this is about balance. If these substances are having a negative effect on your life and health, assess whether reducing them changes the way you cope.
- Eat foods that are thought to affect mental health - A fifth of our brain is made up of essential fats, and often these are lacking in our diets. The potential consequences can affect our mood, concentration, memory and intelligence.
There may be times when these tips may feel insufficient and you may need to talk through the issues that are distressing you with a professional. This can help enormously.
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