23 May 2022
The Key to Caring for Your Mental Health
Estimated read time: 5 minutes
The mind and body are a single unit that work together like a well-oiled machine, forming a delicate and organic alliance that allows us to live every aspect of our lives fully. If a part of this mechanism malfunctions, we might feel anxious, depressed, and detached from the world, and even the prospect of completing our daily tasks might seem like an obstacle course too difficult to overcome.
Thousands of people suffer from such an imbalance for different reasons, chief among them a lack of attention paid to their mental health.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health 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.” It’s more than the absence of mental illness; it’s an integral component of our overall health.
In many cases, an individual’s mental health is determined by multiple social, psychological, and biological factors. These can include abrupt social changes, stressful work environments, violence and abuse, social exclusion, poor lifestyle habits and physical health, and human rights violations, WHO says.
The good news is that there is a lot of people can do to care for and protect their mental health.
The first step is to accept the need for change and act upon it, identifying situations, moments, and other triggers that are affecting one’s emotions and acting to prevent them. Learning to manage stress, which can cause physical and mental illness, is a great start. Practicing relaxation techniques and deep breathing, getting closer to nature, and spending more time on hobbies — whether it’s reading, singing, playing tennis, painting, or gardening — are all fantastic ways to help stave off some mental health conditions.
Another way of caring for your mental health involves caring for our bodies. Recommendations include:
- Getting enough sleep. Depression and sleep problems are connected. People who suffer from insomnia, for instance, are about ten times as likely to develop depression, compared to people who sleep soundly at night. Conversely, among people with depression, 75% say they have trouble falling or staying asleep.
- Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and other substances. Experts use the term “dual diagnosis” because in many cases, alcohol or substance abuse is related to a mental health disorder, such as depression.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Science has shown that nutrition affects our mental health: what we eat can change our moods and improve or worsen health conditions.
- Exercise regularly. The physiologic influence of exercise — from a short walk to an intense workout — helps maintain a strong mind-body balance that acts like a shield for our mental health.
Other words of advice to keep in mind:
- You can’t control everything. It’s important to set boundaries and recognize when you can’t get something done.
- Connect with others. Limit the amount of time spent scrolling on social media and use it to share moments with real people instead of exchanging emojis. Caring for one’s mental health is beneficial not just on an individual level; it has an impact on the community as a whole.
- Cultivate empathy and gratitude. These feelings can help lighten the burden brought on by negative emotions. Research suggests that gratitude can be associated with numerous benefits, including improved physical and mental health, increased happiness, and a feeling of satisfaction with one’s life.
- Stay positive. In recent decades, new evidence has surfaced confirming that being optimistic can lead to a longer life span and improve one’s mental health. Optimism is the tendency to expect good things — it’s an attitude or perspective that influences our overall health as well as our everyday social and professional lives. Compared to pessimists, optimists can handle adverse situations much more successfully, even when things don’t turn out the way they want them to. Staying positive is another way of caring for one’s own mental health.
Depression and Anxiety
We all feel sad from time to time — it’s a natural human emotion. However, clinical depression is a serious condition that can have a significant impact on all aspects of life. Understanding and recognizing the difference between occasional sadness and depression is the first step toward getting help.
Depression is a complex condition. Experts don’t fully understand its causes or what triggers symptoms. They do know that several factors can play an important role, among them genetic traits, changes in levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine or serotonin; and environmental, psychological, and social factors.
Many things can increase an individual’s risk of depression. The most common are:
- Suffering physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Age. Although depression isn’t a normal side effect of the aging process, older adults have a higher risk of becoming depressed, particularly if they don’t have a family or social support system.
- A conflict or crisis, such as a divorce, in individuals who are biologically predisposed to depression
- A severe or chronic illness that requires intensive treatment and care
- Gender — women are more likely to suffer from depression than men
- Genetics: A family history of depression can increase the risk. But as with other mental disorders, the link isn’t quite as simple or direct as it may seem. Experts believe that there are many different genes that have a small effect on us, rather than one single gene responsible for depression.
More than half of people with depression develop an anxiety disorder, another of the most common mental health conditions. Anxiety is more abrupt than depression and tends to appear suddenly, even prior to the event or situation that triggers it. It can involve extreme fear and concern in the face of something in the future, like an exam, a public speech, a work presentation, a proposal, or a divorce hearing. Being anxious isn’t like being nervous, which tends to be fleeting; anxiety can be more intense and become chronic, affecting daily life at every level.
Addressing and preventing these conditions isn’t easy. But many of the causes and triggers behind them are not immutable, as was believed in the past. Psychotherapy and in some cases medication, or a combination of both treatments, can change thoughts and attitudes that have become entrenched over time. That’s why making the individual choice to seek professional help is key to our mental health and well-being.
Remember, always consult with your physician or health care professional to determine the best options for your body and health and to answer any questions you may have regarding any medical matter, including your mental health