Things I do (mostly) every day for positive mental health
When facing the vast issues of mental health, a key factor to remember, no matter how isolating and exceptionally personal the effects feel in the moment, is that it is not an experience entirely unique just to you. With 1 in 5 Australians facing experiences of mental health illness and depression recognised as a leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, the impact of mental health illness is more widely recognised than ever before. Simultaneously we are becoming increasingly well versed in discussing the topics, from how to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, how to broach topics in the workplace and the kinds of professional help to seek when dealing with some of these issues.
However, in addition to these “big” kind of changes taking place, in my own personal battles against the “black dog”, I’ve found that it is the little pieces of work that I do (mostly) every day for positive mental health that contribute to have an accumulative effect which helps prevent relapses, or indeed, course correct when they do arise.
Simple, not necessarily time consuming and beneficial to both my overall physical and mental health, these ‘things’ may not seem like a whole lot, but through consistency and commitment, are a proactive measure to assist in my self-care practice and aid in developing more positive mental health.
The elixir for an array of mental health conditions, movement in its many forms – be it training, exercising, walking, dancing – has the ability to shift mood and mind-set almost immediately. There’s a reason people bang on about endorphins all the time, those exercise-triggered hormones boost feeling of positivity and wellbeing and simply incorporating a consistent movement practice can lower the risk of depression. Exercise in fact has become an evidence based treatment solution for depression, with a further study indicating that it can be a protective measure from future depressive relapses, indeed potentially preventing an individual from developing depression in the future.
When it comes to fuelling the body, knowing that what you put in can have an extensive effect on how you feel can be a key shift to assist with the nutritional decisions you make. As we delve deeper into understanding the gut-brain axis, its crucial to remember that good food can equate to your good mood. Research into the gut microbiome has shown increasing evidence on how gut inflammation and bacteria imbalance is linked to the experience of anxiety and depression. With healthy gut function closely linked to normal central nervous system function (CNS), variations to the microbiome can effect various CNS disorders by implicating an impaired stress response and normal hormonal functioning. Armed with this understanding, it is possible to realise that at every opportunity you have to nourish your body well, you have the opportunity to nourish your mind also. Therefore choosing to fuel the body with highly vibrational, fresh, balanced and energising foods is a positive decision towards enhanced mental health.
Our voices are a powerful tool and the very act of voicing the emotions we are experiencing, can help to breakdown the churning whirlwind and spiraling, loop of the mind. Bottling up the feelings we are currently experiencing allows them to accumulate and in essence, fester through the process of rumination. Whereas speaking them out loud tends to have the positive effect of realising that often they do not hold as much weight once outside the confines of your mind. Speaking up and sharing, whether that is to a professional, your partner, family, or trusted friends/confidants, or sometimes, even just out loud to yourself, is a healthy way to manage the many thousands of thoughts that the mind scrolls through daily.
Not only does speaking up help you process your thoughts – remember a problem shared is a problem halves – but it additionally makes those in your inner circle aware that you are [currently] having a rough patch. Mental health issues can be a very invisible illness and often, we are adept at hiding our experiences. So, having the bravery to speak up and share helps others to know how to help you and address the issues you are facing.
It seems like we are increasingly turning to meditation and mindfulness practices as the remedy to all of our ailments. Can’t focus? Meditate. Can’t sleep? Meditate. Nervous about that big interview? Meditate. But in all seriousness, taking a pause and finding time to get still and engage with a mindfulness practice is a daily ritual that holds significant scientific backing indicating its various positive effects on mental health. Research shows that those who meditate daily can experience a breakdown in the neural connections in the brain that induce feelings of anxiety or fear, whilst simultaneously building connections relating to empathy and rationality for problem solving. In fact, one study even indicated that meditation could be just as effective as taking anti-depressant medication. So, as a free, non-invasive, proactive step, a daily “shower for the mind” in the form of meditating is a handy tool to utilise, both a prevention measure and healing method, for those facing mental health issues.
Don’t know how to get started? Check out Meditation 101 : A beginner's guide how to.
Mental health issues, particularly depression, can be extremely isolating. Humans have an inherent need to belong, making social support critical to not only thriving, but more importantly, surviving. Personal relationships cast a security net, to protect against isolation and build vital connections between individuals, helping to boost wellbeing and positive mental health. As much as we rely on technology to assist us in our connections, and indeed for those who like me, live geographically removed from a high number of their social support network, sustaining relationships digitally is a nifty advancement. However, phone calls and digital communication do not hold the same power as face to face social interactions and shouldn’t replace our connections in real life completely. The need for face to face connection is a pivotal feature in assisting mental health conditions, in fact, researchers found that limited face to face social contact nearly doubles the risk of depression. Finding ways to interact and connect with others, even in seemingly small, moments helps to connect to our social, tribal natures.