Take care of your Mental Health
Mental health is integral and essential to your overall health, and it is much more than the absence of mental disorders. It includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community1.”
Mental health refers to your mental wellbeing, affecting the way you think and feel about yourself and others, the choices you make, how you act and deal with challenging situations, how you cope with stress and manage emotional states and relationships2.
According to the WHO, mental health is determined by a range of socioeconomic, biological and environmental factors, and its concept may include3:
- Subjective well-being
- Perceived self-efficacy
- Intergenerational dependence
- Self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential
What are some symptoms of a mental health problem?
Physical problems are usually easier to identify, however there are some signs, symptoms and behaviors that can indicate that you or someone you know may be struggling with some mental health issues. The earlier you detect these signs and address them, instead of trying to hide them or pretend they do not exist, the easier it will be to regain and maintain your mental health.
The U.S. government Mental Health website provides a list of early warning signs that a person may experience when having problems. Consider asking for help if one or more of these feelings or behaviors are present2:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and usual activities
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Yelling or fighting with family and friends
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
- Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
Disorders of the mental spectrum are the result of a complex interaction between biological, psychological and social factors2. Unfortunately, although mental and behavioral disorders are estimated to account for 12% of the global burden of disease, the budget for mental health in the majority of countries constitutes less than 1% of their total health expenditures3. Politics throughout the world may not consider mental health a priority in their policies and budgets, however that does not mean you have to do the same. In fact, you must take action, be responsible and accountable for your own mental health.
There is a complex web of factors and dimensions that contribute to the maintenance of a healthy mind and the prevention of mental illness. While the process of healing certain emotional or psychological wounds and achieving this delicate psycho-emotional balance may require the help of a professional or specialized therapist, there are many steps you can start taking by yourself to address and improve your mental well-being, at the same time build up your resilience.
Here are 10 easy steps you can start taking now, by yourself, for improved mental health:
1. Positive and light attitude
Be positive about yourself, valuing your worth and efforts, but also about others and life in general. Having a positive outlook in life will help you develop positive thoughts and feelings that will transpire to every level of your life. Remember: do not take yourself too seriously.
2. Connect with positive people and have a support group
Surrounding yourself with positive people is very important to improve your attitude and view of the world and life. Find a group of people, friends, or family, who you identify and feel good with. Cherish those relationships and make it a priority to spend some time with those who support and love you.
3. Set realistic goals
Often, we set the bar too high for ourselves. That may lead to inactivity, which will set on fire your negative self-talk and feelings of not being good enough. Set realistic, accomplishable goals. Then set small steps towards those goals and celebrate each small step you take. And if things do not turn out the way you want them to be, just set a new goal, with the learning power of the previous one to help you.
4. Focus on the present
It is easy to get lost in the past or future. In plans, conversations, or traumas. Every time you find yourself lost in thought, try to come back to the present moment. That may mean going for a walk in nature and listening to the birds, sharing your feelings with someone, or simply listening to your breath.
5. Talk to someone
Sometimes we carry the burden of difficult experiences, traumas, or present concerns all by ourselves. Talking to someone, sharing your concerns and fears, may be one of the best ways of helping your mental health. It also helps you realize, by listening to other people, that we are all human beings with struggles, fears and problems. Share and listen.
6. Help others
Being kind, generous and helpful is one of the best strategies to increase your self-esteem and feelings of worthiness. Doing something for another human being, without expecting anything in return is a true gift and will leave you feeling good about yourself. Consider volunteering or enrolling in community work or projects, doing something at home that you are not used to doing or just some random acts of kindness.
7. Nourish your body
This is the pillar of your health, both physical, mental, and even spiritual. Treat your body like a temple, a precious gift that allows you to be alive. Proper nourishment includes:
- Plenty of hydration with pure water
- Nutritious plant-rich food
- Regular exercise
- Quantity and quality sleep
- Time for rest and relaxation
8. Learn to work with your mind
This is an important step towards good mental health, learning how to deal with your thoughts and emotions, and with that little voice inside your head that is often not so nice to you. You can try different techniques, like mindfulness, meditation, prayer or just focusing on your breath. Every time your mind goes back to the worries, problems, or plans, just bring it back to your point of focus, whether that is a mantra or your breath. At the beginning it may seem like an impossible task, but it actually just takes practice. Commit to your mindfulness practice daily and you will reap the benefits in the short term as well as the long term.
9. Learn to manage stress and develop coping skills
Life will always have stressful situations. At work or at home, with a colleague, friend, or partner, driving in traffic or even during your vacation. The secret is not to eradicate stress, but to learn how to manage it, and to respond in a healthy, sustainable way. You may need the help of a professional, depending on the levels of stress and anxiety you suffer and what triggers them. However, there are simple strategies, like taking 3 deep breaths before reacting, trying to see the bright side of a situation, or just allowing life to be as it is. Another option is trying to limit your exposure to challenging situations. For example, if traffic drives you crazy or the phone is ringing all the time with work concerns, experiment with a ride share or with setting up times when you will be available to be contacted, allowing yourself to unplug.
10. Have fun, be creative and laugh
At the end of the day, what is most important is that you feel happy, alive and are living your life with confidence and fulfillment. So, make sure to take time out of your busy schedule to do the things you love. That might be reading a book, writing, going to the movies or sharing a cup of tea with a friend. Try to spike your creativity, dancing, cooking, playing. Most of all, laugh. Make others laugh. Take life lightly, because as it turns out: There is Always a Reason to Smile. The smiles you give will come back to you 😊
Very important: reach for professional help if needed. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. It means you are strong enough to recognize you need it.
- “Mental health: strengthening our response”. World Health Organization. August 2014. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response, accessed 5 July 2021.
- “What is Mental Health?”. US Government Mental Health. Last Updated 28 May 2020. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health, accessed 6 July 2021.
- “The world health report 2001 – Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope” (PDF). WHO. https://www.who.int/whr/2001/en/whr01_en.pdf?ua=1, accessed 5 July 2021.
Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.