“I don’t know why I’m feeling like this, I mean, it’s not like I have depression or anything”.
“So many people have mental health now, I’m lucky that I don’t.”
‘Mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ are often used interchangeably within society. This usually means that people are either viewed as having a ‘disorder’ (requiring treatment) or they don’t have a disorder and are fine. There’s no in between.
In reality it’s quite the opposite. Everyone has mental health, just like everyone has physical health. It’s a continuous spectrum with periods of highs, lows or simply just feeling eeksie-peeksie*.
Mental illness on the other hand is clinically diagnosable. Some examples of this could be depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (to name a few). These illnesses affect how a person thinks, feels, behaves and interacts with others. Although the exact causes of most mental illnesses are unclear, they can be linked to various biological, psychological and/or environmental factors.
Now, back to mental health (reminder: everyone has it). Just like a person with poor physical health may not have an illness, it’s also possible for a person to have poor mental health but no mental illness. We all have days where we can feel overwhelmed, low or not like ourselves. Likewise, we can also have days where we feel on top of the moon or just neutral, with things ticking along averagely.
An important part of maintaining good mental health is resilience. In layman’s terms, this is our ability to ‘bounce back’ from different obstacles thrown our way. This can be mentally or physically. It’s about having our own personal toolkit of coping strategies which we can refer to when necessary.
This can be made up of anything you like, the key is to try out different things to see what may work for you. To give you an idea, The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) suggests the following five ways to better wellbeing . I’ll use this as a framework to describe some of the ways I implement these in my life. Visit https://www.samh.org.uk/about-mental-health/self-help-and-wellbeing/five-ways-to-better-mental-health for the full details.
- Connect. Sometimes when I’m feeling down I just want to be by myself and I don’t want to bother anyone. However, I always remind myself that reaching out to someone or even just being around other people always makes me feel better. A quick text, Skype call, attending a fitness class or meeting up with someone for a coffee can be enough to make me feel less alone and lift my mood.
- Be active. It’s easy when I’m in a negative slump to want to just laze about. But even a short walk can lift my energy levels and release those endorphins (feel good chemicals). Even better if I can get myself to do something more energetic such as playing tennis, going to an exercise class or even just dancing around to my favourite music.
- Take notice. This is a biggie. In this day and age most people are glued to their phones or screens. This means that we miss some of the most beautiful sights and opportunities to just be mindful, enjoying the moment. One of my favourite things to do is to go for a walk, breathe in some fresh air and take in the sights of the season (pretty flowers, crunchy leaves, newborn lambs- you name it!) without my phone. Often I’ll ask a friend to join me!
- Learn. Learning helps us to feel purposeful. In my case, this can be learning a new recipe, exploring a new place or something more academic such as learning a new language.
- Give. Anyone else love doing things for others? I enjoy doing various types of volunteering, giving a practical hand to those who may need it, random acts of kindness.. the list goes on! It doesn’t have to be big, any giving behaviour will make yourself and the other person feel good!
Some of these things might not be for everyone but that’s the beauty of making up your own toolkit. It can consist of anything we like which works for us. Whilst these are beneficial, it’s also important to remember that they are not treatment. If you are struggling more than usual and think you may need some extra help it’s important to reach out. This can be to a GP, a friend, a colleague, a family member or an organisation such as Samaritans or Mind to explore your options.
*eeksie- peeksie definition: Scots language meaning absolutely equal or even.
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