Sound mental health is as important as good physical health for optimal overall well-being. Everyone agrees that a strong mental constitution is a vital factor for living potentially to the fullest.
What Mental Health Means
Wikipedia defines mental health as “…the psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment. From the perspective of positive psychology or holism, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life, and create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience.”
Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illnesses or disorders. It encompasses the abilities of an individual to:
- think, emote, and relate well with others
- realise their potential
- be productive in the community
- cope well with life’s stresses
- enjoy life
- be reasonably independent
To put it simply, the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud defined mental health as the ability “to work and to love.”
Since every stage in life brings major changes, we need the psychological resiliency to meet the challenges life metes out. Our mental health is challenged by adversity and also by the response of our own genes and brain chemistry. Because anyone’s mental health can be risk at some point in life (from trauma, sudden change of fortune, etc.), it is important to be aware of the early warning signs of mental health deterioration.
Early warning signs such as those listed below should prod one to get immediate help:
- Loss of interest in learning or doing anything
- Pulling away socially
- Sleeping too much or hardly sleeping at all
- Low energy; chronically fatigued or exhausted
- Feeling lost, helpless, or hopeless
- Experiencing unexplainable aches and pains
- Feeling of detachment from self and others; emotional numbness; indifference
- Severe mood swings
- Irritable, confused, angry
- Worried, scared, forgetful, anxious
- Inability to perform normal tasks
- Thoughts of self harm or inflicting harm on others
- Persistent thoughts that play in the mind over and over
Early psychological intervention increases the chances of an individual’s full recovery.
Strengthening Your Mental Health
As important as it is to strengthen or maintain our physical health, our mental health also needs constant upkeep.
We may be kind and understanding to others but we usually tend to be hard with ourselves. Tone down your self-criticism and treat yourself with the same kindness and respect. Aim for personal growth by allowing yourself new experiences and learning new things. Becoming an expert in your hobby, learning a new language, or challenging your intellect with puzzles can help you build different facets of yourself, making you a more interesting person.
Valuing yourself like this helps fortify your self esteem which goes a long way to promoting your mental health.
Take Good Care of Your Body
The mind and body are intrinsically connected. If the body weakens, so does the mind and vice-versa. In order to bolster chemicals in the brain that are responsible for making us feel good, good habits that promote physical health promote mental health as well:
- Regular exercise — increases the production of endorphins and serotonin, both “feel good” elements that lower depression and encourages positive perception
- Enough rest or sleep — sleep deprived individuals are more prone to developing anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep also significantly decreases one’s cognitive abilities thereby impairing memory, focus, problem solving, and the like.
- Avoiding vices such as alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking
- Eating a nutritious, balanced diet — a diet high in sugar, processed food, or sodium can be detrimental to both physical and mental health over time
As stress invades life, almost daily for others, one must learn how to deal. Anger management, work-life balancing, time management, and such must make their way into your skill set so you may manage the degree of stress that comes your way.
In addition, try to find humour in your mistakes. Laughter can boost your immune system and reduce stress.
Give of Yourself
Helping others and realising you have made a difference, no matter how small, in a person’s life, increases your sense of self-worth which in turn strengthens your mental health. Positive social connections help improve mood, emotional resilience, and confidence. The best form of social interaction is one’s giving of himself…time, effort, money, goods, etc….to others. The act of generosity stimulates the pleasure areas of the brain because it makes us feel relevant, useful, and needed—factors which improve the way we see and feel about ourselves.
Cultivate a Support Group
People who have strong familial or support connections often exhibit good overall health. Your mental and emotional well-being can be maintained well over time if you have people you can trust, talk to, and be of help as well. Widen your circle of friends by joining a club, gym, or cause. Spending time to cultivate positive relationships within the family and among friends is always a wise investment of your time.
Because your happiness rests on your mental well-being, it is vital that you take steps to safeguard and maintain it. When you feel you need help, seek it out and get it. This is not a personal sign of weakness but of strength. With appropriate treatments and care for mental disorders, you can make a full recovery to live your life to the fullest.