October 07, 2014

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

The Community Social Work team discusses mental health and strategies to boost your own well-being at any time of the year.

World Mental Health Day is this Friday and it is important to ask “What is mental health?” and “Why is it important to talk about it?” Often when we hear the words “mental health”, it is common to think of of mental illnesses or disorders. While mental illness is an aspect of mental health, and something that affects one in five Canadians, mental health is much more than an illness or disorder. 

Mental health is something that everyone has. 
Key to our overall wellness, mental health is a level of psychological well-being that reflects our emotional and behavioral functioning. 

Unlike physical health, mental health is often invisible. It takes an active effort to evaluate our mental health and a conscious initiative to strengthen it. Our mental health is often difficult to gauge or measure, however, there are some common strategies for checking-in on our mental health, building our mental well-being, and making sure that we are putting ourselves in the best position to respond to life’s ups and downs.

The following strategies are effective ways to boost your mental health and overall well-being*:

Find balance in life: While easier said than done (especially for students), finding balance in life can keep you in a healthy mental state. Seeking balance in all aspects of life — social, physical, spiritual, emotional, education, etc.   is key to strengthening and maintaining mental health. Part of this can be accomplished through identifying priorities and making use of your time effectively. 

Develop a healthy self-image: Celebrate your strengths, accomplishments, and uniqueness. Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself, and accept compliments from people. Actively acknowledge what you are good at and be aware of your limitations. Setting realistic goals and avoiding negative thinking will go a long way in creating a healthier self-image.

Build resiliency and practice healthy coping strategies: Find out what your stress triggers are and how you respond to them, then develop helpful responses to those triggers. Problem solving, balancing expectations and obligations, developing strong support networks, and asking for help are all strategies to build resilience and to cope with the challenges that life brings. Mindfulness, being in nature, deep breathing, and talking to others are a few ways to respond to stress.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A healthy diet, lots of water, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all ways to stay physically and mentally healthy.

Connect with others and get involved: Social experiences have a positive impact on your mental well-being and help to keep you from feeling isolated. Socializing with friends and family and/or joining a club, team, or group are ways to connect with others and be social. When you surround yourself with good people, spend time strengthening those relationships to make them last.

Take care of your inner-self: Relax, play, and take time out for yourself. Practice mindfulness, meditation, or spirituality. Build optimism and practice gratitude. Listen to music. Learn something new. Engage in a hobby and pursue things that bring you joy.

Give of yourself and care for others: Volunteering and doing something for others is a great way to be involved in the community. Get involved in a cause and put your efforts into affecting a positive change  the options are limitless. Doing something that you value will provide a great sense of purpose and satisfaction. Plus, it is also uplifting to know that you are a part of something meaningful.

Know when to get help: Seeking support is not something that anyone should feel ashamed or embarrassment about. We all need help at some point in our lives, and it is important to know where to go and who to speak with when life gets difficult.

Remember that while one in five Canadians will be diagnosed with a mental illness this year, five in five people have mental health. Mental health should matter to all of us!

If you would like to know more about these strategies or to speak with a helping resource, we encourage you to check out the following U of A services:
Community Social Work Team
Counselling and Clinical Services
Interfaith Chaplains Association
Peer Support Centre

*Adapted from the Canadian Mental Health Association, Mental Health Foundation, and Mental Health America