May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this year it may be more important than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption to normal patterns of life. Increased anxiety along with a reduction in social interaction, educational and employment opportunities has led to an increased risk of anxiety and other mental health issues for many people.
How can we look after our mental health in difficult times?
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and both are interrelated. Yet we often fail to make our mental health a priority.
Just as we should not wait until we suffer an illness or injury before we think about looking after our bodies, don’t wait for a mental health crisis to occur before you think about taking care of your psychological, emotional and social well-being.
Good mental health is much more than the absence of depression and other psychological illnesses. Emotional and mental resilience help us to cope with the stresses of life, overcome challenges and setbacks, as well as build and maintain healthy relationships.
What can I do today to improve my mental well-being?
When we are stressed and overworked it can be tempting to cut back on sleep, forgetting the importance of sufficient rest and renewal. Losing even a couple of hours sleep can affect your mood, decreasing your energy levels and ability to work and handle stress. There are also long-term health effects of lack of sleep.
Exercise has benefits for both physical and mental health. But this doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon or slog it out at the gym if that is not your thing. You are more likely to establish a regular routine by finding an activity you enjoy, exercising with a group of friends and sticking to the time of day that works best for you.
Eating a balanced diet and avoiding too many processed foods is good for both your brain and general health. Excessive consumption of sugary snacks, saturated fats, alcohol or caffeine, although tempting when tired and stressed, can adversely affect your mood and health in the longer term.
Have you noticed feeling more tired and drained after interacting on social media and video calls? During the COVID-19 pandemic many of our usual work and social interactions have become virtual. Nothing matches real face-to-face connections to build supportive relationships, and it can be particularly challenging for those who live alone.
Having a sense of purpose in life and a reason to wake up each day is vital to emotional and mental well-being. This will be different for each person, some may find it in their work, relationships, creative pursuits, or caring for others.
Stress is your body’s response to anything that requires attention or action. However, the nature of modern life means that we may become stressed by events and situations beyond our control. It is important to distinguish factors that we have control over and avoid focusing too much on things that we cannot change.
We do not hesitate to call the doctor when we have a physical problem requiring medical attention. Asking for mental or emotional support if you are struggling in this area is no more a sign of weakness than going to see the doctor if you are ill or in pain. Reaching out for support indicates strength and self-awareness.