22 May 2015

7 everyday tips for staying mentally healthy

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About five years ago, I took my first Mental Health class. Before starting the semester, we were warned by our professor that as we studied various mental illnesses we would start auto-diagnosing ourselves with all sorts of psychological disorders. As the semester went on, I saw myself in many case studies, but it was mainly the anxiety disorders that I related to.

For the past month, I have had the chance to learn more about psychological well being by producing the next Psychological Injury Prevention conference. I have been speaking to so many intelligent and eloquent individuals about mental health in the workplace. When I listen to these leaders discuss depression and anxiety (amongst other illnesses), I can’t help but start diagnosing myself again, just as I did five years ago.

I know myself quite well and I do admit that I am a very stressed individual. I constantly have to be aware of this in order to keep my anxiety in check. Without being diagnosed with an illness, traits associated with mental issues are often manifested in our personalities, but by no means does it signify that we have a mental disorder. As Dr Jon Jureidini from the University of Adelaide told me, we have to be wary of mental disorder over-diagnosis. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) articulated beautifully why maintaining mental health is so important for every single one of us:

Mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. It’s a state of well-being in which you realize your own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work and study productively and are able to make a contribution to your family and community.

Sure, feeling distressed isn’t as obvious as a scraped knee, but it’s not a reason not to address the issue. That being said, knowing how to put a band aid on a psychological injury isn’t as intuitive as it is to put a band aid on a scraped knee. The CMHA helps us out but offering 7 everyday tips for staying mentally healthy.

1.    Learn how to cope with negative thoughts

You come home, it’s Thursday night and you can’t stop yourself from thinking about the deadline you have to meet the next day at work. Take a deep breath; take notice that there is nothing you can do about it right then. Find something to distract yourself and accept that you cannot deal with the issue until the following morning.

2.    Be in the present

When you arrive home at night, when you leave the office for the weekend, when you’re on holiday with friends or family, let go of external distractions. Turn off your mobile and avoid checking your work-related emails. Take in the present moment,

3.    ‘Collect’ positive emotional moments

Take the time to think of moments when you've felt happy, peaceful and loved. Create a safe haven of positive emotions for yourself where you can find refuge when you start feeling distressed.

4.    Enjoy hobbies

A hobby is a good way of finding balance in your life. Having a hobby allows you to take some time to do something for yourself: something you are only doing because you actually truly enjoy it, not because you have to. It is a type of mental stimulation without any pressure associated to it.

5.    Treat yourself well

A glass of wine to kick off your weekend, catching up with a friend over coffee, reading a good book in the bath, taking an hour to go to yoga, going to the movies with your significant other, eating a decadent bowl of cookie dough ice cream with hot fudge drizzled over it. These are all examples of simple daily treats that can have a huge beneficial effect on your life and general wellbeing.
6.    Live a healthier, more active life

Let’s come back to that bowl of ice cream. Try not to make a habit of it because your body is a machine that you need to treat well if you want it to treat you well in return. Eat your greens, take the time to do physical activity at least 30 minutes three times a week and get a proper night of sleep. You’d be surprised how much fresh air can clear the brain from negative thoughts. 

7.    Build a support system for positive mental health and ask for help

A significant problem in today’s western societies is isolation. We see hundreds of faces every day, but you could probably count on two hands how many people you speak to. You don’t even need a whole hand to count the number of people you have an actual, meaningful conversation with in a day. Don’t be shy to ask ‘R U OK?’ and don’t be scared to ask others for help when you feel like you need it. You can build a network in your community by joining a club or an association. Take the time to catch up with your friends. Turn off the television and talk to your family when you have dinner. Laugh with your co-workers and also listen to their concerns.

These are all really simple ways that you can improve your mental health. Being physically and mentally healthy is all about having a balanced life and building positive relations. It is crucial for us to realise that psychological injuries are just as real as are physical injuries. 

Although Alexandra didn’t know much about conference production before first coming across this opportunity with Akolade, she has quickly become passionate about her job. Gaining in-depth knowledge in a variety of new fields without going through exam stress? Who could ask for more? If ever you speak to Alexandra and wonder what that funny accent is, it is from Quebec, French-speaking Canada. Do not hesitate to ask Alexandra about her former life on the 47th parallel; she will be thrilled to talk to you about snow storms, skiing and -35⁰c!

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