Credit: ThinkstockWe have all experienced times when it's difficult to cope. These are the times that test our mental wellbeing — our state of mental health. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to develop and maintain mental wellbeing.
It’s best to think of mental wellbeing as a cluster of abilities and emotions. These work together to help us build resilience to cope better with the bad times. Mental wellbeing is reflected in our ability to relate to the world around us and to make positive connections with people. It’s also about feeling our lives are productive and that what we do has value. This means being realistic about the way we view ourselves. It’s about appreciating and accepting our limitations as much as being confident with who we are and what we do.
We are all vulnerable to setbacks of course, and the longer these go on, the greater our vulnerability becomes. The fact that at some point we may suffer from depression or some other mental health issue doesn’t mean there won’t be healthy times. The key is to come up with strategies to avoid or lessen the impact of future upsets.
One of the best places to start is by taking care of our bodies. A well-balanced diet, some regular exercise, getting quality sleep, and not smoking are important ingredients. The mind and body work together: if the body is healthy, it’s likely mental wellbeing will increase.
Learning to relax properly and systematically is important for both the body and the mind. There are a number of options available. Mindfulness is more popular than ever and there are downloadable apps available to help guide and monitor progress. Simple breathing exercises can help, as can yoga or muscular relaxation techniques.
Accepting ourselves for what we are is good for self-esteem. These days we are surrounded by people who appear to have more, do more, or seem more important or influential. Comparing ourselves to others erodes confidence. Chasing down some high standard or level of perfection that may have been set by imperfect people is pointless. Being true to ourselves is about having self-respect and being assertive. We should set our own goals and be motivated by the issues that we feel are important.
If you have mental health problems
If you are vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression, keeping a mood diary can be helpful. A mood diary is quite simple and it can help to track changes in mood that might easily be overlooked. Knowing what triggers your mood can help you call on your resources to alleviate or avoid the worst. These resources will include your positive relationships, your ability to talk about how you’re feeling, and may also include consultations with your doctor or therapist.
Manage your medication in a way that works for you. If you spend half your time asleep, then something needs to be done. The therapeutic effect of tablets is intended to help you improve, and while some have side effects, they shouldn’t get in the way of your life.
If you do become unwell, your mental wellbeing plan should kick in. This is something you should consider developing while you are well. The plan should state what works best for you and what should be avoided. This might, for example, be a particular combination of therapies, but it could also be a call for a certain kind of support mixed with periods of solitude. Mental health issues can be exhausting, but a balance needs to be struck between unhealthy isolation and time alone, which can be restorative.
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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.