If you're not careful, life can get on top of you. Ahead of World Mental Health Day this Friday, here are 10 tips for staying emotionally strong.
We all know what we have to do to stay physically healthy. But what about mental wellbeing? Though we are far more open today in talking about our emotional difficulties than was the case with previous generations, psychological health is something many of us nevertheless take for granted - or, worse yet, assume beyond our conscious control.
This isn't the case at all. Happiness is something we can all work towards, with the correct approach. That is the message Mental Health Ireland wishes to convey ahead of World Mental Health Day, next Friday.
"Our mental health is something we all need to be concerned about," says chief executive Orla Barry. "In terms of physical health, we aware of the importance of five portions of vegetables of fruit a day - whether we follow the recommendation or not is a different thing. However, we are all in the loop regarding the advice. What we are trying to do is get the message out that [there are concrete steps] that will ensure you feel better and function well."
Approximately 14 per cent of the population, she says, is judged to have good mental health - to be 'flourishing' in professional parlance. The same percentage is at the other end of the spectrum and is regarded as 'challenged'. In the middle are the rest of us - we have good and bad days and mostly get by as best we can. By following some sensible tips we can copperfasten our mental well being and buttress ourselves for the challenges of everyday life.
"When you go to the shop, say 'hello' to the person next to you in the queue," says Barry. "At the bus-stop, remove your headphones and engage with the people around. Being older and looking at my kids and their friends, I can see that the constant playing of music and Tweeting actually gets in the way of that engagement with others."
We all have our personal 'stress triggers'. Learn to recognise these and take steps to lesson their impact. To be clear, stress is, of itself, not a bad thing: it can help us perform more efficiently and achieve difficult goals. The problem is when stress takes over and we start to feel helpless. If you have difficulty winding down, look again at your work life balance. And consider ways to relax - including, if required, yoga and meditation.
It's a creaky adage and yet it's true - a healthy mind makes for a healthy body, says Barry. "Run, walk, cycle, spend time in the garden - whatever it is, be conscious that, in terms of mental health and mood, your body is hugely important," says Orla Barry. "The two are intrinsically linked."
If you feel you cannot cope, reach out. If work is too much, request time off. Should the demands of parenting begin to overwhelm, arrange for a friend or family member to look after the kids - or book a babysitter for the night. As the pressures of day to day life crowd in, it is easy to feel isolated, which can have a hugely negative impact on your state of mind. So understand that people are, by their nature, helpful - and will be there if you need them.
Caught up in the rush to be best at everything - the best employee, the best parent, the best son or daughter - life can flash by without your noticing. "I am always struck by the number of people who will go running or walking outside and not pay attention to the environment they are in," says Orla Barry. "You have to ask yourself 'what am I eating and seeing? What is going on next door to me?" The simple act of noticing is hugely important. You have to be able to tune into your experience ' what am I feeling? How do I react to a particular situation?"
Regular sleep is crucial for healthy emotions. If you are physically exhausted, chances are you will experience mental exhaustion too. Aim for a set routine, going to bed and getting up at the same time through the week, including weekends.
"Learning stimulates your mind," says Orla Barry. "When you master something or achieve a new piece of knowledge, there is an enormous feel-good factor."
This is true through all phases of life - and applies to young people as much as to older individuals. "The learning habits you pick up early in life will stand to you. If you are inquisitive as a child and develop a love of learning, it will carry you through your later years." Learning challenges the brain, a stimulation that will play its part warding off depression.
Our brain requires the correct nutrients to function optimally. A healthy balanced diet will make you feel better about yourself. Conversely, binging on junk food will leave you listless and rundown - emotionally as well as physically. We know it can be difficult after a long, draining day. However, if you make the effort to eat healthily in the long run it will to your physical and mental benefit.
Selfless acts assist in 'plugging' into your local community, fostering a sense of belonging. "If we look out for others, the benefits to ourselves are considerable," says Barry. "You start to feel as if you are part of something larger than yourself." "Giving' means different things to different age groups", she says. "If you are 15, maybe it is being generous to your friends, if you are 35 perhaps it has do to with participating in sport, helping your team mates. Everyone is different."
We are often our own worst critics. While it is good to be self-aware and not sleepwalk, smugly and unwittingly, through life, by the same token, you shouldn't beat yourself up whenever something does not proceed exactly to plan. We have all been knocked off stride and had to pick ourselves up. Every misstep and reversal is a learning opportunity - you'll come back stronger and better prepared next time.
Health & Living