Mental Health Awareness week 18th – 24th May 2020
by Laura Kennard
Some people refer to Mental Health as “emotional health” or “well-being” but whatever name you prefer to call it, we all have mental health and it is as important to look after it as much as our physical health.
Unfortunately there is still a lot of stigma around speaking about mental health, however when we refer to our mental health it should not always be viewed in a negative way. Our mental health changes from day to day and some days will be better than others, some days we will feel quite resilient, positive and happy. Other days we may feel overwhelmed, anxious or stressed. It is important to remember that even if we have a few down days in a row, things will change and we will once again feel lighter and happier. Whilst most of us are able to cope with these ebbs and flows some people find this harder than others.
We must also keep in mind that we all deal with things differently to each other and what one person may not find stressful or frightening another might do, this is just the same for positive situations too. Whilst you might be able to bounce back from things quickly, try not to judge someone who isn’t able to quite as fast as you.
Our mental health can be affected by many different factors, one of which is the where we work. The Mental Health Foundation state that:
Working conditions and environment can have a huge impact on mental health and, equally, someone’s mental health can have a significant impact to perform well in their job.
1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%). (*1)
Women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men (19.8% vs 10.9%). (*2)
Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. (*3)
So what can we do to look after / improve our mental health ?
The Mental Health Foundation has suggested 10 key points that we should look at. Below I have listed them along with my thoughts on each heading.
1) Talk about your feelings
If you have someone that you trust, it can really help to speak with them about how you are feeling. This should not be seen as a sign of weakness, in fact it can take great strength to speak openly about your feelings and admit that you are feeling low. Speaking about how you are feeling can help lighten the burden you may be feeling, even if the other person can not do anything to physically help, having them listen to you can be a relief. It is however important to remember that listening is a skill in itself and not one that everyone is good at ! If you find someone is opening up to you, don’t feel you have to solve their problem, but do please give them your attention without being distracted by other things and really take time to listen to them.
2) Keep active
Exercising releases “feel good” chemicals in our brain called endorphins as well as cortisol which helps us to manage stress. Exercise can help with self-esteem, concentration and improve our sleep. When we say keep active, it doesn’t mean that we should turn into gym bunnies (but if that is your thing – great!) walking, gardening and housework all count as keeping active. Choose an activity that you enjoy and will therefore be more likely to build into your routine.
3) Eat Well
As there are strong links between what we eat and how we feel, it is important to eat a balanced diet full of fresh food and plenty of water. Also try to limit the amount of caffeine and sugary drinks that you have.
4) Drink sensibly
Whilst it is perfectly OK to enjoy the occasional drink, some people turn to alcohol as an unhelpful coping strategy in times of low mental health. However the effects of alcohol are short lived and offer far more negatives than positive. If you can try to stick to the guideline of a maximum of 14 units per week (6 pints of 4% beer or 6 x 175ml glasses of 13% wine), this is the same for both men and women and should be spaced across the week rather than consumed together.
5) Keep in touch
Staying in touch with our friends and family whether by a phone call or face to face visit can really help us to stay connected. Having different people to talk to can help offer different thoughts, perspectives and maybe solutions to whatever might be causing you stress.
6) Ask for help
One of the most important things for us to remember is that we are all human and are not robots or super heroes and that it is OK to ask for help. Sometimes that help might be in the form of a physical action that someone can do for you or it might just to be listen to you and offer their advice. If you don’t have anyone who you can ask for help, there are professionals available who are able to, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, your GP or your local council, all of these are great signposting services.
7) Take a break
Taking a break away from the situation or task that is causing you stress can be very helpful. Sometimes we “can’t see the wood from the trees” but if we take a step back and look then things become clearer. Change what you are doing for a while; perhaps even change your scenery too. Taking a break will mean different things for different people; perhaps you could go for a walk, sit quietly in your garden, read a book or do something more active. The most important thing to do though is to relax and breathe!
8) Do something you are good at
When we are feeling low, stressed or anxious it is good to have a hobby to turn to that we are good at or at least enjoy! This could be anything from a sporting activity to gardening or colouring. The point of it is to allow you time to relax and unwind and distract you from negative thoughts for a period of time and for you to focus on something else. We all have something that we have enjoyed at one time or another, we just need to remember what it is!
9) Accept who you are
We are all different and good and bad at different things. What you might find easy another person might find hard and the other way round. There might be parts of our personality that we do not like or fear that others do not like that about us, but all of these things are what makes us who we are as individuals and it is important that we accept ourselves for who we are and remember that those around us like our family and friends all do too.
10) Care for others
Caring for others can help us to feel valued and give us purpose and boost our self-esteem. Why not check in on an elderly relative or neighbour or volunteer for a charity? Even caring for a pet can help your own well-being – good news if you are an animal lover.
We are all responsible for our own mental health and how we allow situations and people to affect us and how we deal with things. It is vital that we think about the above measures and put some of them in place BEFORE we feel that our mental health is starting to suffer.
Don’t try to do the whole list but choose 1 or 2 things and begin to incorporate them into your daily life, over time you can add to the list to include more and more.
Remember, it is OK to not be OK, remember that we are only human and there are lots of things we can do to help us feel better, if we take ownership of our own mental health and well-being.
If you have enjoyed this blog, why not read my earlier blog all about stress?
(*1)Lelliott, P., Tulloch, S., Boardman, J., Harvey, S., & Henderson, H. (2008). Mental health and work. Retrieved from gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212266/hwwb-mental-health-and-work.pdf
(*2) Stansfeld, S., Clark, C., Bebbington, P., King, M., Jenkins, R., & Hinchliffe, S. (2016). Chapter 2: Common mental disorders. In S. McManus, P. Bebbington, R. Jenkins, & T.Brugha (Eds.), Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital.
(*3) ONS. (2014). Full Report: Sickness Absence on the Labour Market, February 2014. Retrieved from webarchive. nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_353899.pdf [Accessed 28/07/16].