Menanteau Serfontein – 10 September 2021
The issue of Mental Health has become a highly topical matter lately. It is important for all of us to understand What Mental Health is, How Important it is and How to Improve and Maximize our Mental Health and Well-being.
- What is Mental Health
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act as we cope with life in various situations (Read the Article on the site entitled “You Become What You Think – Renewing Your Mind”). It also helps to determine how we handle stress, build relationships, make choices, overcome challenges and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships.
Mental health is important at every stage of life – from childhood and adolescence through to adulthood and ageing.
- What it Means to have Good Mental Health
Professor Peter Clough, Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Huddersfield in the U.K. says: “Mental Strength is the capacity of an individual to deal effectively with stressors, pressures and challenges and perform to the best of their ability, irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves.”
The Relationship between Resilience and Mental Health
Having solid mental health doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time or that you never go through bad times or experience emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. Emotionally healthy people still experience stress, anger, sadness and anxiety, but they are aware of their emotions and are able to adequately deal with (manage) their feelings and emotions whether they’re positive or negative. People with strong mental health keep problems in perspective and are better able to bounce back from setbacks, adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience.
Their resilience also makes them less afraid of new experiences or uncertainties about the future. Even when they don’t immediately know how a problem will get resolved, they are hopeful and believe that a solution will eventually be found.
People who are mentally healthy, typically have the following characteristics:
- A sense of contentment
- A zest for living and the ability to laugh
- A balance between work, social activities, hobbies, rest, physical health and spiritual health (Read Article on the site entitled “Body, Soul and Spirit Need to be Nurtured and be in Balance”)
- A sense of meaning and purpose in respect of the various facets of your life
- Better physical and overall health
- The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change
- Healthy self-confidence and self-esteem
- The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships
- The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity (resilience)
- A higher probability to realize your full potential
- How to Improve and Maximize Mental Health and Well-being
Whether you need to cope with a specific mental health problem, handle your emotions better, or simply to feel more positive and energetic, there are many things that you can do to improve your mental health and well-being.
Building mental strength is fundamental to living your best life. Just as we need to exercise to build our physical strength, we should also develop our mental health through the use of mental tools and techniques.
The good news is that there are steps that you can take to improve your mental health and emotional well-being, become more resilient, and enjoy life more.
Mental strength involves developing daily habits that build mental muscle. It also involves giving up bad habits that hold you back. (Read Article on the site entitled “Habits – What is it all about, How can Habits be changed and New Ones Developed?”)
Practical Ways to Improve Your Mental Health and Well-being
- Make Social Connection a Priority—especially face-to-face
No matter how much time you devote to improving your mental and emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and function at your best. Humans are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections with others. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship—even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.
Reach out to people – in doing so, you could be of assistance in many ways and in turn others could be there for you in a time of need. Even in the checkout line in a shop, or on the bus, or the person serving you coffee – make eye contact and exchange a smile, a friendly greeting, or small talk.
Phone calls and social networks have their place, but nothing can beat the advantages of quality face-to-face time with other people.
- Exercise is as good for the brain as it is for the body
The mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, which are powerful chemicals that lift your mood and provide added energy. Regular exercise does not only benefit your physical health – it can also have a major beneficial impact on your mental and emotional health, relieve stress, improve memory, and help you to sleep better.
- Healthy Diet – Eat a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health
What we eat and don’t eat, as well as how much we eat, affects the way that we think and feel. An unhealthy diet can take a toll on your brain and mood, disrupt your sleep, sap your energy, and weaken your immune system. Conversely, switching to an appropriate wholesome diet, can give you more energy, improve your sleep and mood, and help you to look and feel your best.
- Managing Stress
Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health. It could also have a detrimental impact on your physical health. It is therefore essential to develop practical coping skills to manage your stress effectively. (Please note that “Managing Stress” will be dealt with in detail in the next Article.)
- Quality Sleep — it matters more than you think
Getting enough sleep is an absolute necessity, not a luxury. Quality sleep plays a key role in many aspects of your life, including your mental health. Skipping even a few hours here and there can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness and ability to handle stress – and over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc with your health and outlook.
While adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night, it’s often unrealistic to expect sleep to come the moment you lie down and close your eyes. Your brain needs time to unwind at the end of the day. Before going to bed, try your best to “float” to bed. Try to be relaxed and at peace. That means taking a break from the stimulation of screens—TV, phone, tablet, computer—in the hour or two before bedtime. Avoid conflict, being stressed, upset, angry, or emotional before going to bed. (Read Article on the site entitled “Body, Soul and Spirit Need to be Nurtured and be in Balance”)
- Find Meaning and Purpose
(Read Article on the site entitled “Meaning and Purpose in Life – Why? – Part 1”)
- Things to Guard Against
It is important to realise that anyone can suffer from mental or emotional health problems—and over a lifetime most of us will. About one in five of us suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder at a given point in time.
Don’t ignore the emotional messages that tell us something is wrong and try toughing it out by distracting ourselves or self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or self-destructive behaviours. We bottle up our problems in the hope that others won’t notice. We hope that our situation will eventually improve on its own. Or we simply give up—telling ourselves this is “just the way we are.”
Even in today’s advanced world, many of us are often reluctant—or unable—to address our mental health needs. This can stem from a variety of reasons, including:
- In some circles, mental and emotional issues are seen as less legitimate than physical issues. They’re seen as a sign of weakness or somehow as being our own fault.
- Some people mistakenly see mental health problems as something we should just “snap out of.” Men, especially, would often rather bottle up their feelings than seek help.
- Taking medication is often absolutely necessary, however we should avoid popping a pill as the only solution, i.e. in conjunction with the medication, the difficult process of addressing the underlying issues/causes should be embarked upon.
- Seek Help from a Trusted Person
Share the state of your mental health, well-being and your concerns in this regard, with a trusted person who can serve as a sounding board and someone that you could become “accountable to” (similar to the Weight Watchers concept).
- Seek Professional Help
If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and still aren’t functioning optimally at home, work, or in your relationships, it would be wise to seek professional help from a doctor or qualified counsellor.
Our mental health matters a great deal and all of us have a responsibility to make a concerted effort to improve and maximize our mental health and well-being.
A large amount of the content of this Article was derived from the following sources:
- Article entitled “Building Better Mental Health” by Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: August 2021 https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/building-better-mental-health.htm
- Article entitled “How to Improve Mental Health” by MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/howtoimprovementalhealth.html
- Article entitled “What it Means to be Mentally Healthy” by Western Oregon University https://wou.edu/mental-health/building-better-mental-health/
- Article entitled “How to Become Mentally Strong: 14 Strategies for Building Resilience” by Positive Psychology https://positivepsychology.com/mentally-strong/
An additional resource that is worth reading is “13 Ways to Stop Doomscrolling & Protect Your Mental Health”
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