Our brain is the most used part of our bodies, yet little is done to care for it. I can assume most of us go to the gym, try to eat healthy and regularly visit a doctor to maintain our physical health, prevent illness and ensure we live a great life. But can we say we take the same measures to care for our over-worked thinking machines? The answer is probably no. After all, there isn’t an anti-aging cream for our mental health, nor a 12-week bikini body challenge for our mind, or even a 1-hour deep tissue massage for our emotional well-being.
According to the Australian Bureaus of Statistics, over 20% of Australians will experience a mental health related illness each year. Sadly, only half of these people will seek help (professional or otherwise), and most will only reach out when things get very bad. And here’s another shocking fact – half the amount of people seek treatment for mental health related illness than people who seek treatment for physical illnesses! Unfortunately, this is because mental health issues are often perceived as ‘invisible’, and hence people are quicker to dismiss them and slower to acknowledge their mental distress as cause for concern.
We don’t have the power to magically make stress disappear from our lives, we do have the power to train our brains to be more resilient in the face of stressors
One of the leading causes of a deterioration in mental well-being is stress. And stress seems to be a constant presence for most of us as we live in a world where competing demands and conflicting priorities is the norm. Like many of you, when I have a million ‘urgent’ tasks on my plate, self-care seems to drop to the bottom of my to-do list. Between juggling university, work commitments, trying to stay physically healthy and maintain some semblance of a social life, I often forget to check in with myself and see how I’m doing mentally. And whilst we don’t have the power to magically make stress disappear from our lives, we do have the power to train our brains to be more resilient in the face of stressors and hence take better care of our mental state throughout our busy lives.
Here are 10 easy things we can all do in our day-to-day lives to ensure we are prioritising, nurturing and strengthening our mental resilience and well-being:
1. Check in with yourself
Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling and understand that it’s okay to not always be okay, the first step to being able to care for your mental health is recognising it needs caring for in the first place
2. Maintain a work-life balance that suits you
This balance is different for everyone, but ensure that you delineate between your two worlds enough so that work and its stress doesn’t bleed into your private life
3. Understand that it’s okay to say no
If you do not think you have the capacity to deal with a new task at work or attend a social event, say NO, you are actually allowed to do that
4. Keep physically healthy
It’s also important to maintain your physical health, eat enough fruits and veggies, exercise, and drink your water!
5. Keep doing things you love
Don’t forget about your passions and hobbies; set aside some time each week to do the things you love and your mental state will thank you for it
6. Maintain a social life
Don’t neglect your friends! Go out and socialise, a change of scenery and some positive human interaction will do you good
7. Surround yourself with positive people
Keep your social interactions positive by surrounding yourself with people who lift you up and bring out the best in you – that friend that only ever complains is probably not the best person for inspiring a positive mental state
8. Talk honestly and openly about your mental well-being
The more you talk about your feelings and mental health with others, the more normalised these discussions become
9. Be aware of triggers
By identifying the stressors in your life, you can minimise the negative impact of stressful situations by mentally preparing yourself before things get overwhelming
10. Know where to access help and seek help before you NEED it
Don’t wait until it’s too late to ask for help! Know where you can turn to when you feel your mental well-being is deteriorating, this can be a friend or a professional as long as it is someone you feel safe with
And so, as I embark on one of the most intense years of my life so far – completing my Honours in Psychology – I will definitely be practising what I preach. Let’s all make the commitment to take care of our whole selves in 2020, and focus on giving our most used body part a little more TLC.
If you are struggling with your mental health, here are some useful Australian organisations to checkout:
Lifeline | 13 11 14
Beyondblue | 1300 22 4636