Mental health is a huge topic, everyone’s experiences are different and individual, so let’s begin with some common ground. Everyone has mental health, it’s a bug bear of mine when mental health is only considered when it deteriorates. People have it, whether it is good or poor at the point of reference.
I feel it should always be a consideration (‘this guy is biased’ you think, you’re right!). Michael Marmot wrote ‘there is no health without mental health’ in his government white paper in February of 2011, a decade ago. In the last decade people have begun talking about mental health more freely. I am incredibly happy about this and actively encourage this to continue, it is one of the reasons this website, podcast and blog has a mental health swing to it. That and it fascinates me every single day.
The link between a person’s mental and physical health is a relatively recent connection in the health field. You can certainly experience somatic symptoms from mental health issues. For example, if a person suffers with depression, they will feel tired both mentally and physically, the constant lack of energy is a battle in itself. Imagine trying to move physically with weights all over you, added to the fact you literally cannot fathom any benefit in movement at all. This is how it has been described to me in the past.
What can we do to look after our mental health, the 5 steps below is compiled from my brief experience in the mental health world, some recall from lectures and a bit of thought about human biology.
Sleep: The right amount of sleep. Rest is so important to our well-being. It allows us to recharge and gives the body time to heal without using energy being awake. Ensure the room is dark, close the door, shut the curtains or blinds. No screen time before bed, the light impacts your pineal glands’ ability to produce melatonin which is integral to your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle).
Hydration: Your body needs water, it is 60% water! Not sugary water, just water. Often people eat when they are actually thirsty. So drink lots, when you think about snacks drink water first. Remove the barriers to drinking enough water. Carry a water container around with you. Put an empty glass next to your breakfast items to encourage you to hydrate. Set a reminder on your phone or leave yourself a note somewhere prominent. No calories from drinks is a rule I go by, so water, coffee and buckets of tea is all I drink. I am British after all…
Nutrition: Bit of a minefield this one, everyone has food preferences. That isn’t something I want to delve into. The point is giving your body the nutrients it needs is vital, however you get them. The right amounts of vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins and fats are essential for the body to function. Ever tried to solve a problem while you are hungry?
Mental challenges: People are problem solvers, our brains are constantly working, predicting what might occur next, running your entire body, fighting germs, replenishing itself and it does all this without conscious thought from you! It is autonomous. Mental stimulation allows new neural pathways and connections to be created in the brain, repetition of tasks helps form memories. Do something each day that you find mentally challenging. Read, consider and question something new each day.
Physical exercise: Sounds awful, painful, tiring or excellent (please delete as you see fit). Physical movement is essential for your body to work properly. It aids digestion, allows muscle conditioning, lubricates joints and is all round good for you. Exercise is always helpful to living a healthy life, most people know and procrastinate this, few act on it. 30 minutes walking each day, taking the stairs instead of lifts and escalators or simply walking locally where before you would have taken the car, bus or train can help maintain your body.
There’s your list, please remember these are purely my own thoughts and are not medical advice.
Don’t tackle all these at once, try one thing each week starting with sleep. Getting the basics right will give you a solid foundation to build good monetary and life habits. If you haven’t already read it, ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear is a great book on how to integrate new habits into your life.
Bonus: I have also written a guest post about debt and mental health on the Fi Fox blog, you can find that here: https://thefifox.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/reader-contribution-alexs-reflections-on-money-and-mental-health/