The effects of mental health and how to manage it
Last Thursday celebrated World Mental Health Day. The importance of mental health and how it affects us is becoming much more widely recognised. In honour of World Mental Health Day this year, I attended a webinar hosted by Arthritis Action all about mental health and how to manage it. This week’s blog is taken from notes that I made during the webinar.
What does mental health mean?
Mental health is the health of our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It involves how we think, behave and feel about different things in life and how we deal or cope with these things.
Everyone has mental health. It’s important to remember that mental health is a continuum. This means that inevitably in life, we all go through periods where we have mental health highs and mental health lows. These are perfectly normal and are a natural part of life. Maintaining a psychological balance and resilience is what enables us to experience these ups and downs and still able to enjoy life. However, when this balance fails, our mental health can suffer and mental health problems may occur.
Issues with mental health can affect anyone of any age and for a variety of reasons. Factors that can affect our psychological resilience and may contribute to mental health problems include:
Biological factors e.g. genes, brain chemistry etc.
Life experiences e.g. trauma, grief, abuse etc.
Family history of mental health issues
Long term conditions e.g. arthritis etc.
Emotions are a natural part of life. Did you know that scientists believe that there are 34,000 emotions that humans can experience? In 2016, Doctor Robert Plutchik condensed all 34,000 emotions into eight primary emotions.
Joy ----------> Sadness
Acceptance ----------> Disgust
Fear ----------> Anger
Surprise ----------> Anticipation
The cause of an emotion may be the result of one particular thing or a build up of many things. Keeping an emotional journal and recording the emotion, where you are and what happened when you started to feel that emotion can help in spotting patterns in mental health triggers. Recognising the emotion or emotions that we are feeling and the cause of them is important as it can help us to constructively deal with them.
The mind and body have a very close relationship. Different emotions can express themselves externally in the body. Things like facial expressions, body language and breathing rate all change depending on the emotion we are experiencing. When the body is stressed, our muscles tense to protect ourselves. Muscular tension releases after the stress has passed but chronic stress may lead to chronic tension causing various aches and pains in the body such as back, neck and head aches or migraines.
Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are extremely common and nearly everyone will experience them to some degree at some point in life.
The terms ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ although often talked about together, are two different things and it’s important to understand their differences.
Stress is often caused by external influences and triggers. It can manifest itself as different emotions, for example anger, worry etc.
Anxiety is an internal response and may start as the result of stress. Anxiety is a particular feeling of fear, dread or apprehension and many people find it hard to find the root cause of their anxiety.
Tips to help with mental health
The way in which we deal with negative emotions and mental health stresses will vary from person to person. What works for one person may not work for another. If you try something that doesn’t seem to help, don’t give up, try something else! There are endless possible coping mechanisms. Here are a few of the most common:
Talking therapies – whether talking to a trained counsellor or to friends or family members, simply talking about your stresses and worries can be very helpful.
Breathing exercises – as mentioned above, negative emotions, stress and anxiety can increase breathing rates, making us breathe faster and more shallowly. This is our natural fight and flight response that is in-built in us to prepare us when facing ‘danger’. Sitting quietly and taking some deep breaths can help to switch off the fight or flight response and calm the mind.
Relaxation – finding an outlet that you enjoy and take time to do when feeling stressed is a great coping mechanism. Outlets should be something where you can ‘switch your mind off’ and enjoy some ‘you’ time. Some popular outlets include:
Having a bath
The possibilities are endless. Take some time to explore what you enjoy and make an effort to fit it into your day or week on a regular basis.
Pacing – make sure to pace your daily activities and take breaks when needed. Create a ‘to do’ list and when you have ticked something off, tell yourself that you have done a good job and achieved something. Be kind to yourself.
Check out the Arthritis Action website www.arthritisaction.org.uk for more on self-management and other resources. Remember, mental health is important. If you need help, you are not weak and you are not alone. Let’s all support each other and be kind to one another :)