Considering that our mental health influences how we think, feel and behave; how we overcome stress and adversities, it is important to know how we can improve it.
Having good mental health does not mean that we do not experience ‘negative emotions’ such as stress, sadness, anger, guilt and so on; as these are necessary and essential emotions. It simply means that we have healthy ways of dealing with them and a strong overall level of resilience.
Well-being is a state of comfort, health and happiness and Mental Health is our emotional and psychological well-being. These three factors can be difficult but are possible to achieve. There are lifestyle improvements we can make to ensure better mental health.
Eating well, sleeping well and exercise are the basic foundation to good mental health. Not only do these factors decrease the risk of psychiatric disorders in general but they can actually treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
Food affects our mood just as much as it affects our body. A healthy diet boosts our energy levels and balances our mood. Studies also show that those who eat well are more likely to exercise, have better quality sleep and are less likely to use drugs/alcohol than those who do not.
Sleep gives our brain the breather it needs to process all of the information we are bombarded with throughout the day. It regulates our mood and levels of stress while improving our memory and concentration. Sleep completely re-energizes us; it is basically a natural source of resilience.
Weight loss is actually the superficial benefit of exercise. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones (cortisol) while increases chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin which works as natural painkillers, mood enhancers and gives us tons of positive energy.
Adapt and maintain Healthy Coping Skills
Coping skills are our individualistic way of dealing with adversities; it is what we do when we feel sad, angry, guilty, etc.
No one is immune to life’s stresses and considering that even good things cause stress (getting married, having a baby, etc.), the key to good mental health is not attempting to avoid stress but rather adapting healthy ways of coping with it. Unhealthy coping skills are temporary solutions that cause additional problems while healthy ones pave the way to a permanently healthy life. Unfortunately, Guyana is flooded with these unhealthy coping practices such as consuming alcohol, smoking, abuse, self-harm etc. I always advise my clients to make a list of their unhealthy coping skills (we all have a few) and make a list of new and healthy replacement skills. Studies show that the average person takes 60 days to form a new habit. So, if you usually call friends for an alcoholic drink on a bad day, it would take 60 days for you to feel comfortable calling them to exercise, play a sport or go to a movie instead.
Healthy coping skills involves anything that physically or mentally benefits you such as exercise, reading, music, any form of art, etc. It can be done with other people or on your own.
Due to our fast paced generation many believe that the greater the personal sacrifice, the greater the reward. However, if you sacrifice self-care, the ‘reward’ will be burnout or bad well-being. Self-care is not an indulgence but rather a necessity.
Self-care in its most basic sense just means taking care of yourself; doing things that nourish your body and mind. It can be reading, haircuts, art – whatever makes you feel like your best self. When we travel, we are told that in case of an emergency, we must put on our own mask or life jacket before those in our care. That’s a life lesson as you cannot effectively care for others until you take care of your own wants and needs. Not to mention, figuring out what makes you feel good brings awareness of who you are and what you really want out of your life.
Taking the time to do this at least three times per week improves productivity, efficiency, self-esteem and self-confidence. Overall, self-care promotes self-love.
Build Self-Esteem and Self-confidence
This means to value yourself over all. Treat yourself with kindness and respect. There are two rules of thumb here.
1. Treat yourself the way you wish others would treat you.
2. Do not tell yourself anything that you wouldn’t say to someone else.
I always recommend that people try affirmations, which are the fastest way to build both self-esteem and self-confidence. Affirmations are short, positive sayings – usually in threes that we tell ourselves every day. They cater to what most provides insecurity and uncertainty. For example, if someone feels they are weak, senseless and dislikes their nose, every day they would look in the mirror and say “I am strong, I am smart and I have a beautiful nose”. It may sound silly but it is widely effective when consistent.
Ask for help if/when needed
I would say that this is the most important. If you have been doing everything listed above and still do not feel content, I would advise that you seek professional help. Many choose to bottle it all up, hoping it would go away or that others would not notice. Many choose to accept it thinking ‘this is just how I am.’ Others self-medicate with alcohol, drugs and a wide range of self-destructive behaviors.
There is unnecessary stigma when it comes to reaching out as it takes great courage and self-awareness to admit you have a problem. It is a sign of strength rather than weakness to admit that you may need some help. You would not let time pass on a physical illness before seeking help, you typically go for help as you see the illness progressing. Your mental health is just as serious and treatment must be sought.
Take the first, positive steps to better your mental health right now!
Heal Guyana is a registered, not-for-profit organisation which functions as a civil society platform that focuses on empowering Guyanese and influencing citizens toward positive behavior change.
The views expressed herein are those of the Author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Heal Guyana or its Executives.