Blog by Guest Author: Rachel Baxter, i am me – the positive mental health initiative
Over the years, much work has been done to make sure that those struggling with their mental health get the help they need. But, with one in seven young people experiencing a mental health condition in any given year, it’s become obvious that we must place greater importance on prevention, rather than cure.
Learning how to build self-belief and confidence and gain an understanding of how to cope when things don't go to plan is a fundamental aspect of ensuring positive mental health, but it’s not necessarily something that many of us are taught from a young age.
It’s possible to control many aspects of our health and change behaviours by focusing on the 6 pillars of lifestyle medicine. These pillars: stress management, relationships, movement, nutrition, sleep and headspace, have become more recognised in recent times, but they have informed many health professionals and other healthy living advocates for many years.
Lifestyle medicine is not a quick fix. It’s a journey that lasts a lifetime and it encourages you to think of your mental and physical health as one, with each supporting the other.
Movement, sleep, relationships, headspace, and nutrition all play a part in increasing our overall health and wellbeing. When the mind is healthy it reacts differently and can become more resilient to stress. Look at the different areas of your life that might be adding to your stress levels and consider what is controllable. Take a look at your H.A.B.I.T’s:
- Honestly assess what is not working
- Adopt new behaviours and routines
- Be consistent and stick at it
- Intend to improve and you will
- Take the time to allow yourself to practice
Our senses also play a huge role in stress management and overall wellbeing. We tend to use touch, sight, sound, and taste on a daily basis to help us make decisions and inform our opinions. Engaging our senses is a powerful tool in providing instant relief in a hectic world.
Try engaging all 5 senses to calm your thoughts and your breathing when you feel like you’re becoming overwhelmed or losing control.
Humans were built to grow up in communities, but now most flee the nest and therefore that childhood support network. Research shows that having good-quality relationships can help us to live longer, happier lives with fewer mental health problems. Having close, positive relationships can inspire us, give us a purpose and sense of belonging, and can positively impact our feelings of accomplishment and self-worth.
But it’s important to recognise when those relationships don’t feel quite right. If a relationship distresses, it’s important to take time to work out what it is that’s causing this feeling.
Good quality sleep is restorative and helps us to recover from mental as well as physical exertion. Sleep not only keeps us healthy by fighting toxins in our body that are related to illnesses such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, but it can also help us to live longer.
Poor sleep can increase the risk of having poor health, and poor health can make it harder to sleep. Sleep disturbances can be one of the first signs of distress and in today’s fast paced world, it’s easy to forget about a sleep routine. Remember being a child, and that bedtime routine of no TV, a bath, dim lights, a bedtime story.... what happened to that?
Today's world can make us feel that we need to measure success by our outcomes. How fast, how much, how many, how famous, how popular etc.
Understanding and learning a new sport or any movement-based activity can help us focus more on the process (the journey) rather than the outcome.
Movement can also help to rebuild a relationship with our moving and feeling body. By moving our bodies expressively, we are reminded that we are a living and capable individual. For example, if you have ever danced in your bedroom to your favourite song, you will understand the feeling of just moving freely without judgement. The moving body brings with it a sense of empowerment and belonging, so that you can feel in a more powerful position to manage the stresses of life.
A lot of recent research is proving how low mood is linked to the gut, in fact, 90% of our ‘happy hormones’ (serotonin) is produced in the gut. A healthy gut not only fights infection and wards of bad bacteria, but it communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps to maintain general health and wellbeing.
So, with our gut playing such an important role in how we feel, it’s important to understand how to directly impact our moods through the foods we eat. Think diversity rather than a good or bad diet, and try to eat foods based on your mood, because different foods can bring about different feelings. For example, cooked foods can help to calm and bring about a sense of comfort. Think about the impact that a warm bowl of soup can have on a cold day.
By tuning into to how food impacts the way you feel, you will start to notice what works for you and learn more about how you can support your mind and body through the food you eat.
Headspace gives us an opportunity to reflect and think. Our brains tend to be on receive for a lot of the day. We fill our heads with information, images, texts, thoughts, worries, actions, tasks, which means that we can often be in a state of high alert and stress.
If we don't create time for headspace, trying to keep everything in that small space can become overwhelming.
By taking more of a ‘Heads-up approach to life’, which means the opposite to walking around with our eyes fixed to our phones, allows us to take in our surroundings, appreciate the little things and is a great way to quieten the mind for a few moments.
75% of diagnosed mental illnesses develop by 18, so it’s imperative that we all become more empowered and educated to successfully support and proactively look after our own mental health, rather than reactively taking a cure-based approach.
That’s our goal here at i am me. The i am me app, which is free to download on the App Store and Google Play, equips young people with life-long tools and knowledge to be able to do this. We believe that all young people should have an opportunity to learn about themselves, understand their values and what they stand for, because it is only then they can truly determine how best to support themselves. We want this to become an ingrained part of their lives and something that is so natural, it becomes second nature.
Check out the free app now for more tips, expert advice, mood and stress trackers, videos and audios.