Like physical health, mental health is essential at every stage of life. It is a measure of one’s overall well-being─ psychological, social, and emotional. It’s all about how we think, feel and act as we deal with life’s ups and downs. It also helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others, make decisions and go about our daily lives. People of every age should work to improve or maintain good mental health.
It is important to understand that mental illness and poor mental health are different, though at times, one may contribute to the other. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person with low mental health may not have a mental illness, and a person with mental illness can still experience physical, social, and mental well-being.
Why Is Mental Health Important?
Poor mental health can not only cause mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression but may also have an effect on physical health. As per the Mental Health Foundation, people with the highest levels of self-rated mental distress are 32% more likely to die from cancer, and people who have depression face a higher heart disease risk than others.
How Stress Affects You
One of the biggest causes of poor mental health is stress.
Stress helps people endure challenging situations or get them through a crisis. But now, many people face chronic levels of stress due to modern-day stressors such as financial worries, workplace conflicts, or difficult relationships.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the top three causes of stress in the U.S. are job pressure, money, and health. About 77% of people in the U.S. experience physical symptoms of stress, and 73% experience psychological symptoms regularly.
Getting stress levels under control is a good start to improving mental health. According to Mental Health America, when you are under stress, digestion slows down, the heart beats faster, the body releases more sugar into the blood, and muscles tense.
Stress can also manifest as physical issues such as body aches, chronic headaches, high blood pressure, binge eating, insomnia, vulnerability to infection, and more. It can cause more serious mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Signs of Stress and Poor Mental Health
Signs of increased stress are an indication of poor mental health. People who suffer from increased stress can take steps to improve their mental health. Sometimes, it could also mean seeking professional help.
Symptoms of Unhealthy Stress Levels
- Frequent irritation.
- Drinking or smoking excessively, knowing it isn’t good for you.
- Digestive issues like indigestion, ulcers, or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Feeling overwhelmed.
- Eating unhealthy foods or eating even when you are not hungry
- Not taking care of yourself.
- Excessive abdominal fat or having trouble maintaining a healthy weight.
- Insomnia or sleeping trouble
- Tension headaches.
- Anxiety, burnout, or depression.
- Sweating excessively even when not exercising.
Tools to Manage Stress and Improve Mental Health
The good thing about mental health is that you can improve it. Improving mental health will also improve physical health and prevent mental illness. For example, managing stress can also improve hypertension management. Here are a few stress management tools to help you take charge of your mental health.
Tactical breathing is one of the most effective skills to manage stress and keep you in the optimal zone for performance. Aside from the obvious, breathing helps reduce nerves or anxiety at any time, particularly during a stressful situation when nerves may impact your performance or during/ after physical activity.
HOW TO: TACTICAL BREATHING
1. Breathe in through your nose to a count of four.
2. Hold for a brief second.
3. Breathe out through your mouth or nose for a count of six (long, slow breath out).
4. Hold for a brief second.
Stand, sit comfortably, or lie down. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your upper chest. Remember you need to breathe deeply into your diaphragm. Visualize your belly filling like a balloon.
To start with, your mind will wander during this activity. If you notice you have become distracted, just bring your attention back to your breath. For more such breathing exercises to manage stress, reach out to your primary care provider.
FLEXIBLE THINKING – PROBLEM-SOLVING
When people have a lot going on in their lives, it is common to feel overwhelmed by your problems and the thought of having to deal with them. Using a stress diary can be useful to identify the problems and then apply problem-solving techniques to gain more control over them. This can reduce the feeling of being threatened or overwhelmed.
HOW TO: STRUCTURED PROBLEM SOLVING
1. Write down what’s causing you worry or distress.
2. Think broadly about your options for dealing with this problem, good and not so good, write them down.
3. Write the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
4. Identify the best option or alternatives to deal with the problem.
5. Make a list of steps needed to carry out each option (bear in mind the resources needed and any pitfalls to overcome).
6. Review your progress in carrying out your options: What have you achieved? What still needs to be done?
OPTIMISM AND SELF-TALK
It’s our interpretation of situations that drive the level of stress that we feel, rather than the situation itself. This means how we perceive life events (the things that happen to us, challenge us, make demands of us, or that we perceive may have consequences for us) has a huge bearing on how much stress or anxiety we experience.
A simple exercise that you can do is called ‘Three good things.’ A couple of times a week pay some attention to three things that are going well or that you are grateful for. This could be as simple as finishing work early one day, winning a prize, or getting some good feedback on your performance.
If you are aware that you are in a stressful environment, monitor your eating patterns and ensure you are eating properly. Take time to eat, not at your desk and preferably with others.
Sleeping well and getting a chance to unwind and relax is also very important. There are many ways to do this, playing sports, doing yoga, reading, or simply doing nothing every now and then.
Having people who you can rely on or talk to is important for wellbeing, so put time into those relationships, be a good friend yourself and people will be there for you during tough times.
When you have a healthy lifestyle, you can cope with challenges better:
- Identify the healthy behavior you want to implement
- Identify the barriers to implementing and continuing this behavior.
- Make a plan to overcome those barriers.
When to seek professional help
If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental health and still don’t seem to feel better, it may be time to seek help from a healthcare professional. At DrNewMed, our wellness coaches ensure you’re equipped with the most efficient and effective stress management techniques and incorporate them into your daily life. Managing stress will benefit you throughout your life so continue to take care of yourself.