It feels like everything l have been working towards, aspired to be, wished to do just disappeared.
But I know that l am not alone in this by any means.
For people who know me this might be a surprise … I’m always the one to organise everything, the person who is consistently positive, resilient, always happy to help and do what l can to help others with their problems. And people come to me when it is too much for them. But never the other way round.
These past few months l will say that I’ve struggled, l’ve been demotivated and l’ve felt lost.
That is hard for me to say, but when l feel no motivation to do the thing l love (teaching), what do l have?
For me it has been a combination of all of the following and more.
Lockdowns, curfews, hormones (I’m 47), relationships (family and friends), and all the little day to day things you don’t even realise are sitting on your shoulders and weighing you down.
So, this piece isn’t just for me (though it is an acknowledgement of where l am at), it’s for others who are feeling the same, to say it’s ok and there are things we can do to help ourselves.
Our mental health influences how we think, feel, and behave in daily life. It also affects our ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships.
Having a strong mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. And being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or any other psychological issues.
Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.
People who are mentally healthy could be said to have the following:
- A sense of contentment
- A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
- The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
- A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
- The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change.
- A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
- The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
- The relationship between resilience and mental health
And having good mental and emotional health doesn’t mean that you never go through bad times or experience emotional problems, we will all go through disappointments, loss, and change at different times in our lives. And while these are normal parts of life, they will still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. But just as physically healthy people are better able to bounce back from illness or injury, people with strong mental and emotional health are better able to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability to bounce back is defined as resilience.
People who are emotionally and mentally resilient have developed the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and productive, in bad times as well as good. Their resilience also makes them less afraid of new experiences or an uncertain future. Even when they don’t immediately know how a problem will get resolved, they are hopeful that a solution will eventually be found.
Whether you’re looking to cope with a specific mental health problem, handle your emotions better, or simply to feel more positive and energetic, there are plenty of ways to take control of your mental health—starting today.
How to boost your mental health (yes, it’s possible!)
Anyone can suffer from mental or emotional health problems—and over a lifetime most of us will. This year alone, about one in five of us will suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Yet, despite how common mental health problems are, many of us make no effort to improve our situation.
We tend to ignore the emotional messages that tell us something is wrong and try toughing it out by distracting ourselves or self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or self-destructive behaviors. We even bottle up our problems in the hope that others won’t notice. We hope that our situation will eventually improve on its own. Or we simply give up—telling ourselves this is “just the way we are.”
The good news is that you don’t have to just cope. There are practices you can adopt to elevate your mood, become more resilient, and enjoy life more. But just as it requires effort to build and maintain physical health, so it is with mental health. We have to work harder these days to ensure strong mental and emotional health, simply because there are so many ways that life can take a toll on our emotional well-being.
Why are we often reluctant or unable to address our mental health needs?
Our inability to address our mental and emotional health needs stems from a variety of reasons:
In some societies, mental and emotional issues are seen as less legitimate than physical issues. They’re seen as a sign of weakness or somehow as being our own fault.
Some people mistakenly see mental and emotional health problems as something we should know how to “snap out of.” Men, especially, would often rather bottle up their feelings than seek help.
In the modern age, we’re obsessed with seeking simple answers to complex problems. We look for connections with others by compulsively checking social media instead of reaching out to people in the real world; to boost our mood and ease depression we take a pill, rather than address the underlying issues.
Many people think that if they do seek help for mental and emotional problems, the only treatment options available are medication (which can come with unwanted side effects) or therapy (which can be lengthy and sometimes expensive). The truth is that, whatever your issues, there are steps you can take to improve the way you feel and experience greater mental and emotional well-being.
#1 Make social connection a priority—especially face-to-face.
No matter how much time you devote to improving your mental and emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and function at your best. Humans are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections to others. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship—even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.
#2 Staying active is as good for the brain as it is for the body.
The mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that lift your mood and provide added energy for the body and brain. Regular exercise or activity can have a major impact on mental and emotional health problems, relieve stress, improve memory, and help you to sleep better.
#3 Learn how to keep your stress levels in check.
Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you brings things back into balance.
Talk to a friendly face. Face-to-face social interaction with someone who cares about you is the most effective way to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Interacting with another person can quickly put the brakes on damaging stress responses like “fight-or-flight.” It also releases stress-busting hormones, so you’ll feel better even if you’re unable to alter the stressful situation itself.
#4 Manage emotions to relieve stress.
Understanding and accepting your emotions—especially those unpleasant ones many of us try to ignore—can make a huge difference in your ability to manage stress and balance your moods. There are lots of Emotional Intelligence Toolkits available which can show you how.
#5 Have a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health.
Unless you’ve tried to change your diet in the past, you may not be aware how much of what you eat—and don’t eat—affects the way you think and feel. An unhealthy diet can take a toll on your brain and mood, disrupt your sleep, sap your energy, and weaken your immune system. Conversely, switching to a wholesome diet, low in sugar and rich in healthy fats, can give you more energy, improve your sleep and mood, and help you to look and feel your best.
#6 Sleep matters— more than you think.
If you lead a busy life, cutting back on sleep may seem like a smart move. But when it comes to your mental health, getting enough sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Skipping even a few hours here and there can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. And over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on your health and outlook.
#7 Find purpose and meaning in life.
Everyone derives meaning and purpose in different ways that involve benefitting others, as well as yourself. You may think of it as a way to feel needed, feel good about yourself, a purpose that drives you on, or simply a reason to get out of bed in the morning. In biological terms, finding meaning and purpose is essential to brain health as it can help generate new cells and create new neural pathways in the brain. It can also strengthen your immune system, alleviate pain, relieve stress, and keep you motivated to pursue the other steps to improve mental and emotional health. However, you derive meaning and purpose in life, it’s important to do it every day.
#8 Know when to seek professional help.
If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and still aren’t functioning optimally at home, work, or in your relationships, it may be time to seek professional help. Following these self-help steps will still benefit you, though. In fact, receiving input from a caring professional can often help motivate us to take better care of ourselves. It is hard, life is hard, but we can turn to others when we need that extra support. Know that there is always someone out there who is happy to listen and do what they can to help.
As l’ve said l have written this today really as a reminder to myself, as much as a hopefully being a positive nudge to others that that are simple ways in which we can help to improve our mental and emotional well-being. I hope you find some of these to be helpful.