Simply not being ill does not necessarily equate to being in good physical and mental health. Wellness is about adopting a lifestyle that not only reduces our chances of getting sick but which also makes us better at managing when illness does occur.
Mental health issues are more difficult to acknowledge and address than physical ailments, but the symptoms and the effects on our lives are just as real. Mental illness is often accompanied by stigma and misunderstanding which can result in a person feeling more isolated and alone.
Just as we can take lifestyle precautions to safeguard our physical health, so too can we also take steps to promote mental wellbeing.
What leads to better mental wellbeing?
- Develop and maintain strong supportive relationships with your partner, children, family and friends. We are social animals, and the people in our lives are our most important asset. Looking after your relationships requires time and care.
- Find someone you can talk to and who will listen. This can be someone from your family or outside such as a mate, work colleague or a professional. We all need someone to talk to when life gets tough.
- Broaden your interests and do things you enjoy because there is more to life than work. For so many of us, our identity and sense of worth is linked to work and what we contribute to family and society. Engaging in hobbies and sport can add to our lives.
- There is a link between physical and mental wellbeing. When one is not functioning, the rest of the system is affected. By taking care of our bodies, we take care of our minds. Think about your lifestyle. Eating well, exercising regularly and drinking in moderation are proven strategies for health.
- Listen to what you are telling yourself. So often when we are under pressure, our thinking turns negative. We may worry, blame others, feel hopeless, and not want to take responsibility. Notice these signs to reduce your negative thinking.
- Ask for help and don’t go it alone. This may be a challenge for some people (in particular, for many men). Many of the messages we receive are about standing on your feet and solving your problems. Some things we can manage alone, but there are some things we can’t. Knowing the difference is another important skill.
What you can do to manage your mental wellbeing
Focus on what you can do
Resist the urge to give up or run away from stressful problems. Avoiding the situation often makes stress worse in the long run.
Manage your emotions
Feelings of sadness, anger, fear and other forms of distress are common when coping with stress. Indeed, it is more difficult to feel happiness when coping with stress. Try not to bottle up your emotions. Instead, try talking about your feelings or writing them down. Try not to lash out at other people. Many of these coping strategies are also useful ways of managing our emotions.
Seek out support
Seeking social support from other people is helpful, especially when you feel you can’t cope on our own. Family, friends, co-workers and health professionals can all provide support. You can ask someone for their opinion or advice on how to handle the situation.
Focus on the positives
This is one of the hardest things to do when coping with stress – at times, it can even seem impossible. Dwelling on the negatives often adds to our stress and takes away our motivation to make things better.
Make an action plan
Problem-solving the controllable parts of a stressful situation is a great way to lower your stress. Try breaking a stressful problem into smaller chunks. With a good action plan you may even be able to put other tasks on hold, allowing you to concentrate on the main problem or even wait for the right time and place to act. An action plan might include these steps:
- Identify and define the problem
- Select your goal
- Brainstorm possible solutions
- Consider the pros and cons
- Choose the better solution – the perfect solution rarely exists
- Put your plan into action
- Evaluate your efforts and choose another strategy if need be.
Look after yourself
None of us will cope well if we do not take care of the basics.
Taking good care of yourself can be difficult during stressful times. If we don’t balance work with play, most of us will experience burn out. Eat healthy foods and drink lots of water throughout the day to maintain your energy. Try to exercise or do something active on a regular basis. Try to avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way of coping.
Consider practicing meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques. Take regular breaks from work to maintain your energy level, plan fun activities and hobbies so you can look forward to them, and get a good night’s sleep.
Take care of relationships
Family, friends and co-workers can be affected by our stress, but they can also be part of the problem. Keep the feelings and needs of others in mind when coping with stress, but balance them with your feelings and needs.
Accept things that cannot be changed
Accepting things that we cannot change can be the most challenging part of coping with stress. Sometimes all we can do is manage our distress or grief. Denying the problem exists will only prolong our suffering and interferes with our ability to take action. Acceptance is a process that takes time, so be patient. Death, illness, major loss or a life change can be particularly difficult to accept. Try not to get caught up in wishful thinking or dwelling on what could have been.
Distraction can be helpful when coping with short-term stress we can’t control (e.g. reading a magazine while getting dental work done). However, distraction can be harmful if it interferes with us taking action over things under our control. Distraction by using drugs, alcohol or over-eating usually leads to more stress and problems in the long-term. Distraction by overworking can easily lead to burnout or other problems, like family resentment.