According to the World Health Organization (WHO): “Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.”
Numerous studies have supported the notion that individuals with poor mental health are at increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer.
What is more, studies have associated poor mental health with gender discrimination, social exclusion, increased risk of violence and crime and an unhealthy lifestyle.
But what is the definition of good mental health? WHO say it is a “state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
The UK’s Mental Health Foundation also describe good mental health as the ability to learn, form good relationships with others and express, manage and feel an array of positive and negative emotions.
In this spotlight feature, we look at some ways in which you could improve your mental health and well-being, ready to take on whatever life throws at you.
Adopting a healthy diet
Most of us are aware that a healthy, balanced diet is beneficial for physical health. It can help with weight maintenance and protect against a range of illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
One of the healthiest diets is considered to be the Mediterranean diet, which incorporates high consumption of beans, nuts, cereals, seeds, plant-based foods and fruits. The diet is also low in saturated fat, includes moderate consumption of fish, poultry and dairy, and low consumption of meats and sugary foods.
Physical activity is important for all mental health experts recommend limiting alcohol intake to promote good mental well-being.
The UK Department of Health has recommended that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.
But you do not have to engage in long, dull sessions on the treadmill to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. Group nature walks could promote good mental well-being.
Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise, and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings from groups suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.
“Being cooped up indoors makes me feel groggy” Service User of Hamara.
Living a largely sedentary lifestyle both at work and on the sofa at home can have a knock-on effect on mental health.
Getting physically fit and achieving personal goals boosts our confidence and self-esteem and helps combat feelings of hopelessness, which can often come over us when we’re feeling low.
Get more sleep
It is common knowledge that sleep problems can affect our mental well-being. People who have less than 5 hours sleep a night may be at higher risk of mental illness.
Sleep problems – even quite mild ones – can damage your well-being and quality of life, too little sleep over a sustained period can leave you vulnerable to developing mental health problems, but there are lots of things that you can do to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
A bedtime ritual – such as a warm bath or reading a book – may also encourage better sleep; as such rituals tell the body it is time to wind down. Electrical screens, TVs, computers and phones all stimulate your brain, making it hard to relax, so it’s best to switch them off in advance, to help you switch off.
The sleep environment is important for a good night’s sleep, and that most people tend to sleep better in a cool, dark and quiet room.
A high intake of alcohol, caffeine and sugary foods in the evening can disrupt sleep patterns, so experts recommend limiting their use for a better night’s sleep.
All of us experience stress at some point. Whether a result of work, relationships or money problems, it is widely accepted that stress can take a toll on our mental health.
Numerous studies have reported the stress-reducing benefits of yoga and mindfulness-based meditation, or activities put the body into a state of rest by changing its gene response to stress. A more recent study found that yoga may reduce the risk of anxiety and depression in expectant mothers.
Staying positive during difficult times may also reduce stress. Regardless of whether a person is feeling happy or sad, adopting the lifestyle changes mentioned previously – such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and quality sleep – can also help combat stress. Other useful techniques for managing ongoing stress include making lists to help put things into perspective, taking regular breaks and being assertive about not taking on too much..
Developing good relationships with colleagues so you can build up a network of support and confiding in someone you trust, at work or outside, about what upsets you or makes you feel stressed can help you feel on top of workplace stress.
Get into paid or voluntary work, or take up a hobby
But although employment can cause stress, being unemployed may be even more detrimental to mental health.
“Concentrating on a hobby, like gardening or the crossword, can help you forget your worries for a while and change your mood,” say experts from the Mental Health Foundation.
Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together, concentrating on a hobby, like gardening or the crossword, can help you forget your worries for a while and change your mood. It can be good to have an interest where you’re not seen as someone’s mum or dad, partner or employee. You’re just you.
People are naturally social beings and most of us feel the need for rewarding social contact and relationships. Being sociable and connecting with other people is rewarding in its own right and can help significantly improve mental well-being. Perhaps even more importantly, building up a support network can also be vital for when you aren’t feeling so good.
Setting your goals: be realistic!
By setting yourself over-ambitious goals, you’re potentially setting yourself up to ‘fail,’ and this can have a real impact on your self-esteem.
Instead of aiming for unrealistic targets that may distress you, try to think more broadly about your mental well-being. Simple things can contribute to a much more positive outlook on life, such as engaging in some exercise, making time for loved ones or taking time out for yourself to relax.
Set your goals ahead by making a list
Talk to friends, family and work colleagues about your goals and tell them how they can help you stick to them
Keep a weekly record of how far you have come; this can help you stay motivated
When you achieve a goal, celebrate by treating yourself
If you slip up – for example, you break your healthier lifestyle change one day – treat it as a minor setback. You can always get back on track the following day
It will take time to get used to any changes you have made, but if you are finding it difficult, do not give up!
Stay Healthy and Happy
Written by Najeen Rasool