The importance of mental health is often underestimated and is often not even acknowledged. A decline in mental health can lead to depression, insomnia, paranoia, psychosis, and agoraphobia to name just a few conditions. It is of course, also intrinsically linked to our physical health. This is one element of our lives in which prevention is infinitely better than a cure. I'd like to share some tips I've come across for maintaining a healthy mental state in the hope that you may glean some practical information.
1. Aim for small positive changes.
Everyone is familiar with the feeling of being stuck in a rut. Maybe you feel helpless or just resistant to change. It is not futile… far from it. All it takes is one small positive change in your life to break the cycle of hopelessness. The idea is to continually improve yourself at your own pace and set realistic goals. These achievements will build confidence in your capability to make further positive changes. Remember, you must walk before you can soar.
2. Establish a routine.
When it comes to maintaining good mental health, many people find that establishing a routine is key. This is particularly useful if you find yourself with too much free time on your hands. Personally, I am a firm believer in rising early and beginning your day on a positive note. Place your alarm clock/phone across the room and don't press that snooze button -- if you need more time in bed, try to sleep earlier. Listen to your body when it sends a message. Get out of the house as early as possible and you'll find it easier to build momentum.
3. Surround yourself with supportive people.
Whether it is your friends or family, it is crucial to spend as much time in the company of people with a positive outlook on life. It is better to have 10 friends who truly care about your well-being than 100 fair-weather friends. The flip-side of this is that you should try to avoid associating with people who drain your emotional energy.
4. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
This is something that can be built towards to create a lasting lifestyle change. It is advised to eat as much unprocessed food as possible. Try to avoid refined sugars and excessive caffeine intake. A healthy body will always make a healthy mind more attainable. It only takes a small amount of exercise to release those endorphins which will make you feel like you can take on the world.
5. Don't beat yourself up over your mistakes.
The simple truth is that we all make mistakes. It is important to learn from our mistakes without dwelling on them. The true masters in any field have failed countless times -- it is your reaction to failure and rejection which is crucial. Everybody must start somewhere, and to fail is to try. Keep at it. Pursue your passions without fear of failure -- you should embrace failure and analyse what went wrong so as to be better prepared for your next attempt.
6. Avoid social media as much as possible.
We have all experienced the boredom of scrolling up and down a news feed on Facebook, Instagram, etc. What we are seeing is the highlight reel of other peoples' lives. What we are seeing is unattainable beauty standards. Remember what Confucius said -- "Comparison is the thief of joy".
7. Maintain an appropriate work/life balance.
This goes without saying -- working non-stop will end in burnout and negative effects on your mental and physical health. Like all things in life, we must find a balance which allows us to feel fulfilled in our work and social lives. As the British philosopher Alan Watts said, "Life is not a journey". I would advise everyone to watch the following video on this topic here.
8. Know your family history.
If there is a history of mental illness in your family, you should be aware of this and act accordingly. There is nothing wrong with letting off steam with a few beers, but know that what comes up must come down. This particularly applies to those readers in their mid-20s; this is when mental illness is most likely to manifest itself. Practice moderation and harm reduction, if you do decide to indulge.
9. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Whether you are asking a friend, family member or attending therapy, there is no shame whatsoever in needing help. Everybody needs help at some stage in life. The very act of speaking about your problems aloud is therapeutic. Getting the perspective of other people will help you evaluate your own issues and inspire you to tackle them.
10. Express yourself.
You don't have to paint like Van Gogh or play guitar like Jimi Hendrix -- any expression of your inner turmoil can bring you to a cathartic state which can help you deal with tough issues in your life. Many great artists have struggled with depression and helped themselves and others through the channeling of this energy into art.
11. Practice mindfulness.
Andy Puddicombe's Headspace app includes a free trial which can introduce you to mindfulness meditation. It is not a complicated technique but it can work wonders for our mental health -- particularly in relation to accepting that which we cannot change. Meditation is a fantastic way to become less reactive to the negative elements of life as it helps replace rashness with cool-tempered consideration.
12. Practice gratitude.
Challenge yourself to write down 3 things which you're grateful for every morning. This could be as simple as having full control of your body, having a job, being in a position of relative financial comfort, having food in the cupboard, a supportive family member and so on. You will be amazed at what you've got. Be thankful for it. This is why many of the poorest countries in the world often show up as the happiest overall -- they are pleased with their lot. Meanwhile, those who succumb to greed may have what seems to be an amazing lifestyle, but they are left constantly wanting more.
So, if you made it this far I hope I've given you some food for thought. We are not merely our negative thought cycles. We can empower ourselves to live happier, healthier lives with a positive approach. Emotions are to be expressed and dealt with. We must build each other up. To all my brothers and sisters who are hurting -- I love you, and I'm not the only one. You have the strength to overcome the obstacles in your path. Stay steadfast; stay strong.