We are aware of our physical health and look after it in various ways. Then if we’re poorly, we’ll self-medicate, visit a pharmacy, a medical professional(s), take care and look after ourselves, or A&E if an emergency. Yet, what do we actively do for our mental health? We often pay little or no attention to it – “It just is” I’ve heard some say - until we experience a change of some kind. We might be unaware of any changes though, and even if we are, what do we do?
Our mental health, and how we experience it, is an individual matter, but here are 10 top tips for starters to help look after it:
1. Understand what mental health is….. and what it isn’t!
The terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental ill-health’ have become interchangeable. So, what is the difference?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “A state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and enables sound decision making and informed choices”. Well-being is generally about feeling well; healthy, happy, sense of achievement, meaning or purpose, including having good mental health.
As we can see, the definition does not mention, say, depression, anxiety, PTSD, words that may have initially sprung to mind. They are some of the many clinically diagnosable mental health disorders. It’s clear, then, that mental health is not mental ill-health, problems, illness, disorders, issues or conditions. Applying this differentiation, as we do for physical health and physical ill-health, can help reduce fear and stigma, and help us recognise any changes.
2. As we’re all human,
understand that we all have physical health, and…. we all have mental health.
So, let’s look after both.
3. Understand that, like physical health, mental health can vary.
Indeed, a leading UK Government report states “By mental health we do not mean “mental ill health”. We mean the mental health we all have, just as we all have physical health. The correct way to view mental health is that we all have it and we fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill and possibly off work”.
Even if we think we’re not ‘the type’ to have mental ill health, the unforeseen, life events, can happen to any of one of us, and that could affect our mental health directly or indirectly as supporting, and indeed caring for others, can impact one’s mental health too. Sometimes a physical illness or injury can affect mental health, and vice versa too.
We can be resilient, work through, process and try to make sense of why and what’s happened, and recover. However, that can be physically and mentally challenging, exhausting and debilitating, especially over time and if we’re ‘going it alone’, as was my experience.
4. ‘Spot’ your signs.
Identify your ‘personal clues and cues’. As we would for our physical health! For instance, how do we know we’re stressed, or struggling in some way?
- Our ‘state’, ‘frame’ of mind - our mood - affects us.
- Whilst we may think or believe we’re OK, our body often tells us otherwise.
- Struggling, poor or mental ill-health is invisible. However, its effect is experienced and often ‘seen’ through physiological, physical, emotional changes, including character, temperament, attitude, personality, behaviour. SO:
+ Recognise when you’re not your ‘normal’, as you would for your physical health!
+ Identify your indicators, triggers, signs, habits, behaviours - your non-verbal communications. Is it a certain person, a situation or a particular task? For example, mine are feeling ‘wired’, irritable, snappy with others, and finger picking.
+ Pay attention, hear and listen to your body. It’s telling you something : – clues that something’s amiss and cue to do something!
+ Change – do something different. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got!
5. Watch your language.
The words we choose speak volumes.
- Avoid ‘should, ought, must, have to and (a particularly one of mine) got to’ creep in. They’re pressurisers. Change to, for example, would like, need, want, choose to.
- Notice any ‘no choice ’ language. Remember and remind yourself you do! We may think we have no choice, but often we’re focusing on the consequence of the choice rather than the choice itself.
- For when self-talk tone slips from ‘inner cheerleader’ - encouraging, gently pushing - to harsh, angry, driven. Another watchpoint of mine.
- When ‘Give me a break; I need a moment; I need a breather; give me 5; hold on a moment; give me some space; I need to step away/take a moment; my brain’s not working; my mind’s not on the job; ’ creep in. They are telling you exactly what you need! – a break! Even if only 5 minutes.
6. Action: Be honest with yourself when/if you’d like help/support.
Again, as you would for physical health. Speaking from experience, struggling in silence and doing nothing is unhelpful.