As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, the week’s discussions have covered a lot of ground: body positivity, intersectionality, the role of social media, toxic masculinity, role models, anxiety and depression, and the masks we learn to wear at different times of our lives…
Wellbeing, particularly psychological wellbeing, is a noisy space. This is hardly surprising when the entrenched silence around mental health is one of the main stigmas we are trying to beat. Nonetheless, in this age of information where most communication channels push their solutions to ‘wellness’, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees; whether we are suffering ourselves or supporting friends, family or colleagues through mental illness.
Where we are on the mental health continuum – and how we perceive our personal wellbeing – can be influenced by a catalogue of quality-of-life variables: air, daylight, personal health, artificial light, technology, sleep, social media, the workplace, relationships, the built environment, recreational space, physical activity, access to nature, nutrition, financial health, mainstream media, and so on. When seeking to improve our own mental health, pinpointing the areas to prioritise can be difficult.
Everyone’s experience of mental health is unique, so listening to ourselves and receiving the responses with compassion should be the first step. De-cluttering what we consume and who we choose to listen to can help us develop internal perspective on the issues. In this kind of ‘information spring clean’ we might selectively unfollow, uninstall, switch off or silence some of or all the extraneous content that reaches us throughout the day. Although plenty of online tools offer to help us ‘self-assess’ our wellbeing, we can also simply take a quiet moment, preferably in a calm outdoor space, to breathe deeply and just ask ourselves how we’re doing.
The role of empathy in looking after ourselves and others can’t be overstated. Maintaining the routine of eating well, exercising regularly, giving time to others, going to bed early, staying hydrated, using our green spaces, keeping screen time in check, feeling purposeful, and being present can be hard. Sometimes, life gets in the way and routines ebb rather than flow. When this happens, allowing guilt and self-punishment to set in can erode the reserves of goodwill we have for ourselves, possibly leaving us feeling even less cheerful.
A better option is to recognise when our behaviours are less than optimal, ask ourselves what’s important and what’s getting in the way, and be pragmatic about when and how we will return to our positive habits. And if we fall spectacularly off the wagon, we can take heart that the neuroplasticity of our brains is such that we can still unlearn the less favourable, temporary habits and re-learn our restorative and sustainable ones. We are only given one body, so nurturing rather than punishing it (both physically and mentally) will go some way to helping us host a healthier, more contented version of ourselves.
Written by Claire Bradbury