12 ways to maintain mental well-being and combat depression
We all have mental health just as we all have physical health. We all know about how to keep ourselves in good physical shape but do we all know how to keep ourselves in good mental shape, too?
Mental health is about how we think and feel and how resilient we are in coping with life’s inevitable ups and downs. Being mentally healthy does not just mean that you are avoiding mental ill health, though. It means that you are able to make the most of your potential, are able to handle the stress and strains of everyday life and make a contribution to your family, your workplace and your community.
Even if you are unfortunate enough to be challenged with a mental illness, such as depression, good mental wellbeing can be achieved with practice, new ways of thinking and new, more helpful habits.
With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental ill health at some point in their life, either you or someone around you will be affected. We all have times when we are unhappy, stressed or just in a low mood and, in most cases, these pass relatively quickly. But if left unaddressed these feelings could develop into something more serious, such as depression, general anxiety disorder or panic attacks. Everyone is different in how they recover from these setbacks, some recover quicker than others, some take a long time to recover.
There is, unfortunately, a stigma attached to mental health problems that stops many people talking about their negative feelings, which actually only serves to keep them in a low mood. Talking to others about how you feel can be difficult but it is actually OK and liberating to say how you feel and to get the support you need.
This guide will suggest 12 practical ways of looking after your mental health:
1. Keep physically active
Scientists believe that exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Frequent exercising can help raise your levels of self-confidence and self-esteem as well as keeping your brain and other vital body organs in good shape. Exercise doesn’t just mean taking part in sports, it can mean walking in the park or countryside, taking care of the garden or even doing the housework. All it takes is just 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week - now, that’s not a lot to ask of yourself.
Find a physical activity that you enjoy doing and make it an essential part of your day. Even better, find someone else to exercise with and have fun at the same time.
2. Eat well
There is much evidence to prove that what we eat affects how we feel. Just think about how that cup of coffee and a spoonful of sugar affects you almost instantly. But food can have a long-lasting effect on your mental health and your brain needs a good mixture of essential nutrients to stay in shape and to function effectively, just as your body does.
A well-balanced diet that is good for your body is also good for your brain and, ultimately, your mental health. A healthy diet could include:
- Lots of water
- Oily fish
- A wide variety of vegetables and fruit
- Wholegrain cereals and bread
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Dairy products (in moderation)
There are many resources available on which foods are good for you and the wide variety of ways they can be cooked or served. If you need a helping hand, a nutrition professional can guide you.
But, as a general rule, try to eat at least three good meals a day and drink plenty of water. Restrict the amount of alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks as these can have a detrimental effect on you.
3. Only drink in moderation
Alcohol is often drunk to help change our mood or to help relaxation. Occasional light drinking in moderation is perfectly healthy and enjoyable for the majority of people. For some, it helps reduce fear and a feeling of loneliness but, whatever the reason for consuming it, the effect is short-lived.
Drinking in excess can lead to you feeling worse, due to the manner in which alcohol withdrawal symptoms affect the brain and the rest of the body. Alcohol is not an effective way to help deal with difficult feelings and emotions. In addition to alcohol, many people use nicotine and/or drugs to alter their mood but, as with alcohol, the effect is very short lived and creates a craving for yet more. Neither of these solves the problems you need help with but, rather, create new ones to deal with.
If you’re struggling with addiction or know someone who is, help is available. Visit Counselling Directory for support.
4. Value yourself and others
When we get to know people, we find out about their skills. Some people are good at making others laugh or have a flair for cookery, gardening, sport, and so on. We are all unique and just because we might not have the same skills as others doesn’t mean that we can undervalue ourselves.
Everyone has something they are good at but not everyone recognises the abilities within themselves. It is much healthier to accept you are unique than being jealous of what someone has got. Valuing yourself for who you are, and for who others are, will boost your sense of self-worth and self-confidence. This will allow you to grow and develop new skills, go to new places, meet new friends and fulfil your potential.
Concentrate on what you are good at but also accept and recognise what you are not so good at, be proud and value yourself for what you are and what you can do. For those things that you might want to change, be realistic about what you are able to achieve and take small but regular steps towards your goal.
5. Talk about your feelings
Contrary to what you may believe, talking about your feelings is very mentally healthy and will help you deal with difficult times. Talking to others about what you are going through means you are taking control of your well-being and doing what you can to stay healthy. It is not a sign of weakness, it is rather a sign of strength.
The old saying “two heads are better than one” is so true. Talking to others about how you are feeling can help you cope with your situation and, in addition, it releases the thoughts whirling around in your brain. Just to have someone listen to you can fill you with a sense of support and care and make you feel less lonely. Communication is a two-way process and, by opening up yourself, you will also likely encourage others to do the same.
Describing your thoughts and feelings to others can be difficult initially, so it's worth using lots of different words rather than trying to select just one. Drawing pictures is another way of expressing how you might be feeling and will help the other person understand better.
It will help you to talk about how you are feeling if you develop the conversation naturally rather than plan it, for instance, in situations where you are doing something together, say, over a cup of tea or out walking. For the first time it may make you feel awkward but give it time. Choose your moment and it will get easier once you start. You will feel very relieved once you have done and it will be much easier next time.
6. Keep in touch with family and friends
The stresses of life can feel much easier with the love and support of close family and good friends. Being among family and friends will give you a sense of inclusion and of being cared for. They can provide different perspectives on what you may be going through, offer advice or personal experience that may be relevant to you. They can also help you follow the steps in this guide and even hold you accountable for what you are doing and the progress you are making.
Concentrate your efforts on those relationships with people that make you feel good, loved or valued. If someone is adversely affecting your mental health, it may be better if you can avoid them or make contact as infrequent as possible. If necessary, break the relationship in a way that is OK for both of you.
At times during life, you may lose someone close to you and it is natural to grieve and mourn their passing. However, it is unnatural for these feelings to last a long time so it is important that you talk about how you are feeling to either your family, close friends or even a counsellor.
7. Care for others
There will be times when people around you need help and support and someone to listen to their troubles. Helping others in their time of need can be very rewarding and uplifting and can help you forget about your difficulties at the same time. Caring for others is part of developing and maintaining a close relationship you have with them; it can draw you closer together.
You can even extend the concept of caring for others by volunteering to work with charities or organisations helping those less fortunate. You will feel needed and valued for the work you do and will enhance your levels of self-worth and self-confidence. In addition, it will help you see that you are not the only one with needs and will add a new dimension to your world, one that will put everything into perspective.
Caring for others can also include pets. Many people believe that looking after pets can improve your own mental well-being, as well as being fun and enjoyable. Most pet owners describe how they develop a strong bond with their pets, a bond that can cut the feeling of isolation and loneliness. Walking a dog, for example, will help you meet many new people with a similar interest and get you out of the house and provide that daily exercise.
8. Get involved and make a contribution
As well as voluntary work, taking an active part in family life, with your friends, the community and in the workplace can really enhance your sense of belonging and give you purpose in your life. Rather than shrinking away from these activities, throw yourself into them with real enthusiasm, be the instigator or organiser and watch how your self-esteem and self-confidence grows.
For example, hold dinner parties or arrange a barbeque and invite friends along. You will be surprised how your value grows within you and how you are valued by others. Overcome the fear of failure and do it anyway, the perception is always greater than the reality.
In the workplace, build your enthusiasm for projects and events by taking a lead part, grow your reputation amongst your peers and colleagues and revel in the involvement.
Doing something positive will develop positive thoughts and help you to be mentally healthy. This will, in turn, build your resilience and stand you in good stead for maintaining a healthy, balanced mind and body.
9. Learn a new skill
Learning a new skill can be like learning to walk again. It exposes you to new concepts, new ideas, new experiences and can be great fun along the way. Many of us have things we have always wanted to do but never got around to it.
What is yours? Consider what it is that has stopped you from pursuing your dream.
Usually, the obstacle or barrier that has got in the way is in our head rather than anything else. So, change your mindset, believe you can actually do what you want, that you can learn that new skill, such as learning a new language, gardening or playing a musical instrument.
Learning a new skill can also bring you into contact with other like-minded people and expand the number of friends you have. The learning process will help you focus on other things than just your own wellbeing, it broadens your knowledge and experiences and helps you become rounded and grounded.
When you are in the process of learning, you will experience a sense of achievement and ultimately success when you have mastered the new skill and this will further feed your feelings of self-worth, self-confidence and personal value.
10. Do something creative
In addition to learning a new skill, many of us have existing pastimes that we love doing but sometimes don’t get the chance to practise. Lots of people like being creative, developing things from scratch and enjoying the process of completing the task. Enjoying yourself while you do this beats stress and boosts your self-esteem. It gives you a focus and purpose that helps you forget the worries on your mind or the difficult times at work.
Being creative is consuming and leaves little room in your mind for anything else. It also means that, for a while, you are not an employee. You’re not a manager, a parent or a partner, you are just you doing something you enjoy.
At the same time, being creative allows you to express yourself in different ways, such as drawing, painting, building or planting for example. You may meet different people while you are doing it and, again, expand your band of friends and colleagues with similar interests.
Explore creative coaching, what a creative coach can help you with and what you can expect from a coach.
11. Take a break
Sometimes we can be so involved in our work and busy lives that we forget to take a break. Sometimes we kid ourselves we take a break when we eat lunch at the desk or have hot drinks on the go, but this is an illusion and is detrimental to good mental health.
What we really need is a change of scenery, a short walk, a sit down during housekeeping or even a long weekend away. Taking a break may mean taking part in an activity or it could mean just sitting on a park bench and watching the world go by. Either way, you are taking a break from your normal activities and will help you experience a change and a chance to think about something new or not very much at all. This is the time you can de-stress and have some much needed ‘me time’.
Many people find yoga or meditation helpful for relaxation but just putting your feet up for 10 minutes or so can be as equally helpful. If you feel tired, have a power nap - tiredness can really lower our mood and resilience. Make sure you get enough sleep and wake up naturally wherever possible. Don’t skimp on rest and relaxation at the expense of getting everything done on your to-do list.
The world can wait until you come back from your break.
12. Ask for help
We all have mental health and we are all humans. Everyone can get overwhelmed at times by what is going on around them or within their head. Not everything goes according to plan, or always goes right or we always feel well. From time to time things will go awry and we feel like we are not in control and cannot cope and, it is during these times, we need to ask for help.
Your family and friends may be the right people to talk to but there are many other options as well, such as:
- Support groups for weight, alcohol or drugs
- Coaches or mentors
- Counsellors or therapists
- Citizens Advice
- Mental health charities, such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness or Mental Health Foundation
- Local authorities
Speak to your GP if you think your mental health is affecting your relationships with others, your work and your overall health. Over a third of all visits to the GPs are about mental health, so there is no need to feel embarrassed or alone.