Every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the 10th of October as the World Mental Health Day, but do we pay enough attention to our mental health for the rest of the year?
Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental health problem. We all have times when we feel down or stressed or frightened. Most of the times those feelings pass. Unfortunately, sometimes they develop into a more serious problem and that could happen to any one of us.
Everyone is different. For example, you may bounce back from a setback while someone else may feel weighed down by it for a long time. Plus, your mental health doesn’t always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages of your life.
So, what is considered good mental health? According to the Mental Health Foundation, good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable mental health problems. It is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil a number of key functions and activities, including:
- the ability to learn
- the ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions
- the ability to form and maintain good relationships with others
- the ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty.
Unfortunately, there’s a stigma attached to mental health problems, which means that people feel uncomfortable about them and don’t talk about them much.
Moreover, many people don’t feel comfortable talking about their feelings in general. For example… myself.
Despite being quite sociable and outgoing, when it comes to open up about my feelings… well, I very rarely do it. I can feel that I’m burdening the other person, or even worse, that they don’t care and I’d be misunderstood or laughed at.
We know that it’s healthy to know and say how you’re feeling.
If you are like me and talking about yourself doesn’t come easy to you either, there are a few steps you can take:
- Find a professional that will listen to you. They are trained and will listen with care and definitely won’t laugh!
- Identify a friend you can talk to openly and honestly and make space in your diary to call them regularly! Even if you have ‘nothing’ to say, make it a regular catch up.
- Find other activities that will help pour out (and even discover) your most hidden emotions. Usually, creative and artistic endeavours are best, like journaling, writing, painting, music and the performing arts.
- Meditation and reflection. Regular practice of meditation can help you identify and work with difficult emotions.
However, now that we’ve identified our emotions and perhaps found a way to talk about them. What else can we do to help us actually regulate those emotions?
- Join the circus! Ok, maybe not that one… instead, let’s find a creative outlet!
After 30 years working in the performing arts I can testify first hand of the impact artistic activities can have in our mental health.
Personally, it has built up my confidence and sense of self-worth and value. Over the years, as I worked with many different communities, I’ve seen people develop their own sense of worth, of belonging, of acceptance of self and others, and seen them work with their own emotions.
However, don’t just take my very bias and non-scientific opinion as the truth. There is a rich literature of studies showing effective benefits of engaging in artistic creative activities, such as the performing arts, music, writing, dance, and even crafts.
‘Artistic creative activities have been shown to modulate emotions (rapidly-changing reactions to events in the external or internal environment), influence our moods (more generalised, less intense states of feeling lasting longer periods), and affect our mental health. As a result, everyday artistic creative activities can impact simultaneously on immediate, mid-term and longer-term effective levels’
- Learn to meditate. There are indeed plenty of studies about the effects of meditation in our nervous system and in how it affects our brain… How about our emotions? According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience:
“Meditation can help control and regulate emotions. Anyone looking for a way to control their negative emotions might benefit from some mindfulness meditation”.
- Join a yoga class. As I mentioned earlier my involvement in the arts has been crucial in helping me develop things like resilience and self-worth, but it has been my yoga practice that has really accelerated my emotional growth.
Note that I don’t consider meditation as separate from yoga but as an important part of the yoga practice. With this in mind and for the sake of this article, I separated the two. In the West, we are used to equating yoga with postures but also encompasses breathing techniques, concentration and of course, meditation.
“A growing body of research reveals that some of the most consistent and reproducible effects of yoga practice include stress reduction, emotion regulation, improved mood and well-being, improved cognitive functioning, enhanced respiratory function, improved physical flexibility, muscular strength and neuromuscular performance.” From the Indian Journal of Psychiatry
What else can you do? Perhaps something a bit more practical than joining your local Am-Dram?
The Mental Health Foundation UK recommends the following…
10 practical ways to look after your mental health:
- Talk about your feelings.
- Keep active. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and feel better.
- Eat well. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well. A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.
- Drink sensibly. We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary.
- Keep in touch. There’s nothing better than catching up with someone.
- Ask for help. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help.
- Take a break. A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health.
- Do something you are good at. Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem
- Accept who you are. We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else.
- Care for others. Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.
If you find yourself overwhelmed or are worried about your mental health or that of a loved one, please don’t just accept it, or ‘bear with it’. Find someone to talk to, there are many organisations with information you can reach to depending on where you find yourself.
Above all, remember that we all cope with situations in different ways at different stages of our lives, but the more you cultivate mental resilience and balance, the easier will be to navigate changes and life stresses.
If you’d like to try yoga and meditation there are many classes online you can try, both live and pre-recorded. You could start making a difference to your health today.