Mental health month: how to look after your mind

Currently, one in five Australians experience mental illness every year. This mental health month, WISE aims to raise awareness, create conversation and provide tools to look after your mind. WISE Employment’s Senior Occupational Rehabilitation Consultant, Lukas Buchler, explains what mental health is, how to notice signs of stress, tips on looking after your mind and making this a habit.

Explaining mental health

“Mental health is the wellbeing of your mind,” says Lukas. “Similar to physical health, there are activities you can do to maintain and build the mind to ensure it feels good.”

In today’s world, we are constantly flooded with information. Whether from social media, news websites, friends, family or work; absorbing all this noise can overload the mind. When our mind is full, it is common to become stressed or anxious, resulting in our physical health worsening.

Lukas says, “The key is to balance how much information you are absorbing and how much you express.” He calls this “expression not suppression”.

The phrase ‘expression not suppression’ means finding a way that works for you to process the information you are taking in. This can be expressing yourself:

  • Verbally – talking, singing
  • Physically – exercising, movement, breathing
  • Emotionally – painting, drawing, writing, building

If you are suppressing the information, your body will try telling you through:

  • Having a full mind – thinking a lot about nothing in particular
  • Having restless sleep
  • Feeling anxious or that your mind is constantly racing
  • Generally feeling unmotivated or flat
  • Losing a sense of enjoyment for things you usually love
  • Lack of self-care – not wanting to brush your teeth, have a shower, eat meals
  • Physically feeling tight and lethargic

How to look after your mental health

Luckily, “the best self-care is free, and you can do it from the comfort of your own home,” says Lukas.

Below are five tools you can implement to help look after your wellbeing.

  1. Decrease external influences that give you stress. This can include social media, news and even people. Start by creating healthy boundaries around things that don’t serve you or have a negative impact on your mood. An example could be setting a limit on your social media use to one hour a day.
  2. Practice mindfulness. Being mindful is about being present in the moment and understanding what is happening around you. There are several opportunities during the day to check-in. For example, focus your whole attention on your food during mealtimes. What does it taste like? Or smell of? Meditation is a great tool to practise presence as it creates some distance between thoughts in your mind.
  3. Find your form of creative expression. This can be journaling, writing stories, drawing, painting, creating sculptures or any other way that you feel comfortable getting information out of your mind. Your expression does not need to make sense, and you don’t need to tell anyone – just get it out of your head.
  4. Practise breathing techniques. How we breathe can have a big impact on both our physical and mental health. It’s natural to take fast, shallow breaths when we are stressed. Due to our fight or flight design, rapid breathing increases the heart rate and releases adrenaline, preparing us to run from perceived danger. By taking long and deep breaths to your belly, you allow enough oxygen and nutrients to circle throughout the body while signalling to your nervous system that you are in a safe place. Take note of your breathing during the day to see if you need to slow it down.
  5. Finally, it’s important to move the body regularly. Examples include stretching, yoga, walking or at-home exercise. By moving, you can help let go of the energy stored inside, connect with your body and spend less time in your head.

Creating healthy habits

Lukas explains, “The key to self-care is consistency. When it comes to taking care of yourself, it needs to happen every single day. We are stressed every day, and if we don’t offload every day, it just builds up.”

Start by choosing one activity for your mind and one for your body. Then set a small achievable goal and allocate a certain time every day. For example, your goal could be five minutes of breathing exercises and five minutes of stretching every morning.

As you achieve your goal every day, you can start to extend the allocated time. Maybe your five minutes becomes eight minutes.

“It takes 40 to 50 days to create a habit, so start small and bit by bit, you can increase the activities. Remember to celebrate achieving small things on a regular basis and be proud that you are improving,” says Lukas.

It’s also important to recognise that every mind and body works differently, so there is no bulletproof way for you to take care of yourself. Lukas says to make sure your routine is working for you and ensure it’s fun.

“Taking care of yourself shouldn’t be a chore. Think about how, when and where you can naturally add to your new routine, so it becomes fun!”

 

Read about more ways to look after your mental health, meditation and ideas on activities to do during lockdowns.

 

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