Ways To Build And Improve Mental Health
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Mental health is often ignored; it is usually not considered as important as, physical health. We take time out from our busy schedule to stay physically fit by going to the gym, pursuing yoga, aerobics, et cetera. We even make changes in our diet and eat healthy.But, how many of us seriously try to maintain our mental well-being? It is our mental health that impacts our overall well-being - the way we think, feel and behave; yet we give very little importance to it. In a country like ours, we willingly spend time and money on doctors, nutritionists, gym trainers, but when it comes to consulting a therapist, we think a hundred times and mostly take action when we reach a crisis point. It is our mental well-being that enhances our ability to cope with stress, overcome barriers, deal with setbacks, build relationships, and lead a fulfilling life.
Good mental health doesn’t mean absence of mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety. It signifies the presence of certain qualities like resilience, the ability to build and maintain relationships, and it also ensures a healthy coping mechanism to recover from life’s setbacks.
People who are mentally healthy often go through rough patches and experience emotional upheavals. Emotions like loss, fear, disappointments, sadness, failure are universal. All of us go through them at some point of life. Just as physically healthy people are better armed to bounce back from illness or injury, similarly people with strong mental health are better equipped to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress.
People with healthy self-esteem and a healthy coping mechanism deal better with challenging situations, whilst maintaining a positive outlook. Even in adverse situations they stay hopeful and are able to dive into their resources in terms of a support system, to find a solution. They are adept in keeping their fears and apprehensions in check and think of a solution objectively. So, it is indeed worth investing in the maintenance of good mental health, as it will help us sail through life without getting sucked into its whirlpool of problems.
Despite know the fact that our mental health impacts our overall well-being, why do we tend to neglect it? Mental and emotional issues are viewed as less legitimate than physical issues, because of certain reasons. It is considered a sign of weakness, if we are unable to deal with an issue on our own. And if a feeling of hopelessness or sadness creeps in, we are expected to quickly come out of it. Since childhood, we are conditioned to think that boys don’t cry. As a result, men bottle-up their feelings and emotions. Instead of taking care of our mental health on a daily basis, we wait to seek help only at the eleventh hour, when we hit rock bottom.
Therefore, instead of waiting to hit rock bottom, let’s look at a few simple ways to improve mental health:
The major difference between older generations and the present generation, is the lack of support system. Our parents and grandparents had meaningful relationships and were surrounded with people they could count on during tough times. Today, we have many friends on social media, but none in reality. Hence, when we encounter a challenging situation, we have no support system to turn to and have to deal with the situation all by ourselves. It is very important to have face-to-face interactions and make time once a week to meet a friend, as we are social beings and cannot survive in isolation. A stimulating conversation or a good hearty laugh is definitely a great stress buster and very rejuvenating.
A good workout is equally important for both physical and mental health. Exercise triggers the release of chemicals like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, that dull pain, lighten mood, and relieve stress.I term them as ‘happy hormones’. Moreover, exercise is a great way to release pent up anger and is an excellent stress buster. A basic workout can comprise of a 30 minute brisk walk, dancing, yoga etc.
Take time out from work, household errands or parenting duties and watch a movie, listen to music, read a book or take your pet for a walk. In your daily schedule, incorporate activities that make you feel good and light. This needs to be exercised on an on-going basis. The mistaken idea that one will relax only on vacation insinuates that stress will be built up until then. What is really required is that we let off steam every day, instead of building up a pressure cooker situation.
4. Manage emotions
This clearly means understanding and being present for your emotions, especially the unpleasant ones which we usually try to ignore and suppress. Acknowledging and owning them will go a long way in managing them.
5. Find meaning and purpose
Engage in activities that give you a sense of purpose, which boost your self-esteem, as this leads to a sense of achievement. Accomplishing chores, tasks or hobbies, we find satisfying, increase our happiness quotient. Hobbies like gardening, cooking, dancing, philanthropy work, caring for elderly and volunteering can be very rewarding.
You need a healthy diet for the mind too! Consumption of fatty foods leads to lethargy, whereas eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts will keep you energised and light.
7. Sleep Well
Needless to say, it’s extremely important to get adequate sleep and rest. Only then we can function logically. Lack of sleep affects our mood and we can become irritable or feel foggy and confused. Sound and peaceful sleep gives a refreshed feeling and we are then ready to take on the day.
8. Connect with nature
Spending time with nature has something magical about it. A walk in the park, breathing fresh air, watching colourful flowers, and listening to the sounds of chirping birds can uplift our mood instantaneously. It is always good to get out of the four walls of our offices and homes and be with nature.
9. Learn something new
Learning a new skill invariably helps a human being to grow. It makes us feel happier to take a break from the mundane routine and do something we always wanted to do for ourselves.
10. Be grateful
We seldom count our blessings. Contemplate the good things in your life and be grateful for them. Most often, the mere act of thanking someone can be good for health. If we practice expressing gratitude every day, positivity will stream into our lives, giving it an entirely new meaningful dimension.
So enjoy being healthy and happy!
Atika Shukla is a Psychologist and Founder- Breaking Barriers. She is also a Health Council member at healthhunt.