Eleven ways to protect your mental health
“Protecting our mental health is easier than you might think.”
Heading into the autumn months can be a difficult time for many people as we struggle to adapt to darker days.
And we may find that the path to keeping mentally well is even more fraught than usual.
But the very nature of the season offers a sound reason and ripe opportunity to show ourselves some kindness.
Protecting our mental health is easier than you might think, with simple daily activities that help us feel ok, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
The charity, which puts prevention at the heart of its work, likens these measures to daily teeth brushing; important in preventing problems.
Its free guide, launched earlier this year offering tips on the 11 most effective ways for people to protect their mental health, is a heartening read.
“Our guide encourages us to take care of the fundamentals of life – our relationships, our experiences, our bodies and our finances,” said Dr Antonis Kousoulis, a director of the Foundation.
“The evidence shows that this is far more likely to keep us mentally healthy than the gimmicks and miracle cures promoted by some in the ‘wellness’ industry, who prey on our vulnerability.
“The truth is, there are no quick fixes for good mental or physical health. What works is developing healthy habits in our daily lives, that help us to feel ok and able to cope with everything.
“For example, in our guide we talk about getting more from our sleep, learning to understand and manage our feelings, planning things to look forward to and getting help with money problems.”
Some of the guide’s tips – such as those on sleep, healthy eating and exercise – may come as no surprise but each one is supplemented with practical, doable pointers.
Others may be more of a revelation both in their simplicity and efficacy. Take, for example, being curious and open-minded to new experiences.
"We can all get stuck in familiar ways, like how we spend our time and what we think about ourselves and the world,” the guide tells us.
“This can be self-fulfilling, with our expectations influencing what actually happens, for good or bad. For example, we might say to ourselves: ‘things never get better’ or ‘I’m useless’ as a response to what others have said to us.
“It can help to notice these thoughts and try out new ones, such as ‘I can change things for the better’ and ‘there is so much I can do’.
“Life can feel more interesting, lively and rewarding when we are open to trying new experiences and experimenting with how we do things.
“It could be as simple as what we have for breakfast or the route we walk with the dog. It could also need some planning, like an adventure holiday. We might find a new place that it turns out we love, discover a talent we didn’t know we had or meet someone new and important.”
The guide, Our Best Mental Health Tips, is based on the Foundation’s own innovative study on what protects people from common problems such as anxiety and depression.
The work, which was published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Health Promotion, combined existing evidence about how we can protect our mental health with experts’ views, alongside the opinions of members of the public.
Most members of the public involved in the study had experienced their own or family members’ problems with mental health, so had the benefit of hindsight when assessing what helps most with prevention.
The guide acknowledges that people may be unable to follow some of its suggestions, for instance because the place they live makes it impossible to sleep well or spend time close to nature.
“Enjoying good mental health should be an equally accessible goal for all of us, yet it is often out of reach for many,” said Dr Kousoulis, who led the research.
"Government action is needed to create the circumstances that solve problems that are beyond individuals’ reach, and help prevent people having problems with mental health in the first place."
People can download the guide free of charge from the Mental Health Foundation’s website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk.
They can also order hard copies by post, with a small charge to cover post and packing.
11 mental health-promoting actions suggested by the guide
1 Get closer to nature
2 Learn to understand and manage your feelings
3 Talk to someone you trust for support
4 Be aware of using drugs and/or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings
5 Try to make the most of your money and get help with problem debts
6 Get more from your sleep
7 Be kind and help create a better world
8 Keep moving
9 Eat healthy food
10 Be curious and open-minded to new experiences
11 Plan things to look forward to