How to improve your mental health & well-being in 2016
As we are now 7 days into the New Year, many of us will be thinking about how we can improve our overall well-being but our mental health is often forgotten in that quest. Many studies have found that people with poor mental health are at increased risk of death from cancer & cardiovascular disease. Poor mental health has also been linked to a higher risk of stroke & heart disease.
The World Health Organisation defines good mental health as 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.”
Therefore we are going to look at some of the ways you can try to achieve this definition of good mental health:
- Take regular exercise Physical activity is vital for all forms of health and it is recommended that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise each week. But you don’t need to join a gym to reap the benefits as walking has been shown to be a powerful stress buster especially if you can join other people in the outdoors and gain the social interaction that comes with this. Outdoor exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression & anxiety.
- Manage stress It is widely accepted that stress can take a toll on our mental health and can make the brain more susceptible to mental illness. Many studies have reported the stress reducing benefits of yoga & meditation. Adopting lifestyle changes such as diet, regular exercise & quality sleep can also combat stress. Staying positive during difficult times may also reduce stress. We have reported on these issues and you can read the article in the link at the bottom of this page.
- Get more sleep Studies have shown that people who regularly have less than 5 hours sleep a night may be at a higher risk of mental illness but there are plenty of things you can do to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Try going to bed and getting up at the same time to build up a regular sleep-wake cycle. Establish a ritual such as having a warm bath or reading a chapter of a book as these may encourage better sleep. Try not to stimulate the brain by watching TV or looking at the computer screen. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark & quiet if possible & limit intake of alcohol & caffeine for the few hours before you go to bed.
- Adopt a healthy diet The UK’s Mental Health Foundation states “Your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body.” One of the healthiest diets is considered to be the Mediterranean diet which incorporates beans, nuts, cereals, seeds, plant based foods, fruits, healthy fats & lean proteins. Studies have found that people eating 5 portions of fruit & vegetables a day have a better mental health than those eating only 1 portion a day.
- Take up a hobby or get into paid or voluntary work Although employment can cause stress, being unemployed may be even more detrimental to mental health. The work environment provides identity, contact and friendship with other people & provides you with an opportunity to meet your goals & contribute. But taking up voluntary work or a hobby can also help you to achieve these things. Any interaction with people can be a good thing in building up a support network to help you when you are feeling low.
It is important that you set realistic goals & targets and include family & friends in your thoughts & plans. Keep a record of your achievements & celebrate even small successes. Most importantly, if you have a slight lapse, don’t give up, just view it as a little blip & keep feeling positive.