By Maya Lightfoot, PSP Ottawa Health Promotion –
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” That’s how the World Health Organization defines it, emphasizing the mental health aspect of it in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
Mental health has become a very hot topic in recent years, and a lot of research has gone into finding ways to build and maintain a good one. On 10 October 2018, in celebration of World Mental Health Day, we recommend applying one or multiple of the following tips to your life:
- Practice Mindfulness: paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. So, how does one practice mindfulness? Take a few minutes each day to just “be”. Empty the mind and focus on one thing, like your breath, or the sounds in your surrounding environment. This helps relax the mind from all the thousands of thoughts that run in and out, and gives it a few moments of peace.
- Incorporate happiness strategies into your daily life: “Happiness is a frame of mind that has been proven to have a direct relationship to good health. It’s more than a nice feeling, it’s a state of wellbeing that seems to actually strengthen your immune system, and protecting against illness.” (Workhealthlife- Shepell). So, how does one improve happiness? Make a list of things you enjoy, or people you enjoy spending time with and schedule them into your calendar. Evidence-based strategies to promote happiness include fostering positive relationships, performing random acts of kindness (e.g., helping out a stranger, paying it forward), journaling, expressing 3 gratitudes a day (being thankful for the things in your life that brought you joy or that made your day better), exercising, and meditating. Just adding one of these strategies to your day can boost your mood.
- Take time for yourself: Self-care is not selfish. To improve your mental health, get to know yourself and what makes you feel well. Do some introspection, find your purpose and fulfill your dreams. Good self-care makes it easier for you to care for others when they need it.
- Take good care of your physical health: A wealth of research demonstrates the unequivocal link that exists between physical and mental health. Start by eating healthy, nutrient rich foods. Food quality plays a huge role in mood regulation, as does sleep and physical activity. Sleep is a very important aspect of mental health that is often overlooked, yet one of the most imperative.
- Exercise is a magic pill for mental health with its immediate and long-term effects. Health Canada recommends that adults accumulate a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Broken down, that is only 30 minutes 5 days a week. Do it for yourself! You are worth it.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: Life is full of challenges that can affect mood, depending on how we choose to see a situation. One can choose to dwell and focus on the negative, or one can choose to learn from it and focus on the positive. Learning to reframe our thoughts and knowing we have control over our thoughts, reactions and responses is a powerful skill. Don’t take life’s challenges too personally. Think “what can I do right now?” to move forward.
It is recommended to focus on one strategy at a time, and add on gradually to enhance your mental wellness toolbox. All of these strategies can be done individually, or more than one can be incorporated to your day. The goal is to find one that works for you and do “that thing” on a regular basis. You can’t develop big biceps with one session at the gym; you need to work hard and consistently to get stronger physically. You also need to practice mental health exercises regularly to develop a strong, resilient mind.
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