Talking about mental health
it seem is still an uncomfortable topic for many. There still seems to be a
taboo around mental health but also a poor provision of free and easily
available mental health services for those who need it, especially children and
young people in inner city gangs. I have dedicated this month’s Monthly Note to write about keeping the
mind and brain in shape and to have a look at the things we can do to help
ourselves and those close by to harness their mind and reach for their dreams
and aspirations.

My coaching training
in combination with my interest in psychology and mental health safeguarding
made me reach out in partnership with Mac UK (music and change) to create a
mental health game (‘The walk of Life’)
for vulnerable young adults in the hope to enable under 16s to also start to
explore and develop their passions and strengths and to create a career around
this information. This not only will make them feel empowered and fulfilled but
foster the belief they can and are contributing to the world with their unique
set of Flow(s) an maybe even help them
surmount some of the obstacles they have in their lives as Sir Ken Robison has found,
when creating a career in our Flow.

What is mental health?

Being mentally
healthy means you can make the most of
your potential, cope with life and play a full part in your family, friends,
work and community. Mental health thus doesn’t just mean you don’t have mental
health problems Mental Health.org
writes. Your mental health is as important as your physical health and both are
interlinked. If one is out of sync the other can suffer too.

Everyone feels down,
stressed or frightened at times and most of the time these feelings go away by
themselves. Sometimes however they turn into more significant mental health problems.
This can happen to any of us. We are all different and process things
differently and depending on what is happening in our lives our mental health
can change. Rethink.org – ‘Living with
mental health illness’
has listed some of the things that can trigger
mental health problems:

·
Anxiety,

·
Drug
and Alcohol use,

·
Lack
of Sleep,

·
Childhood
experiences

·
School/exam
pressures

·
Work/school/college environments

·
Physical
illness

·
Worry
about the future

·
Hormones

·
Abuse

·
Overuse
and misuse of the internet

·
Friends
and relationship issues

·
Sex
and sexuality

Mental health problems
range from anxiety, depression, to phobias and OCD, bipolar to schizophrenia
and suicidal thoughts to attempts.

A good reference point
for all the different types of mental health problems, a brief explanation and
tips on how to cope can be found of the Mind.org.uk website.
http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/

What you can do to take care of your mental health

Here are nine tips I
have collated over the years that can help you too to keep your mind healthy so
you can better withstand the stressed of modern life and be in a place from
which you can fulfil your dreams and aspirations.

Winding down/Destressing

The brain needs to
wind itself down for many reasons; to be able to sleep, to be able to think
straight, to be able to visualize, to be able to be optimistic and make the
right decisions for yourself, to not get blue.. the list goes on. It thus needs
a place where it can destress and disconnect from the grind, the bad news,
negative people and problems of the world. A place it can recharge itself, find
calmness, hope and love and a way back to your own wisdom within.

Where is that safe
haven for you? Where can you fully wind down and destress your mind? Having a
space where you can come back to, recharge, find your strength and balance back
and forget the world and your worries . Your brain needs it. To some it might
be their home, the corner of your favourite sofa, nature, exercise, a hobby, or
being with friends and loved ones. Winding down can start already back from
your commute. Reading, listening to music, walking or cycling home (getting off
a few stops before?) all are ways to wind down and destress. What is yours? How
can you create more time in this space?

Find what you love to do

Immersing yourself
into an activity you love to do helps your mind to destress and focus on
something else than your worries or problems too. This is hugely beneficial. What
it does is it lets your brain rest from your internal mind chatter, lowering
your stress levels and the cortisol in your blood which is harmful to your
body. Even when we have created a successful career around something we love
(our Flows) the stress we experience as a results is different. Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi
talks about ‘Eustress’ that is generated instead and how
it is less harmful to the body.

Finding and following
your Flow is thus also an aspect of keeping your mind healthy and seems to
bolster against some of the things in life that you have no control over. This
is because when you are in your Flow you are using your natural and true
talents and passions to create something that is of importance and worth to you
(and others). In return this brings back joy and energy, confidence in the self
and a knowing you are on the right track and contributing to the world. But
most of all you are honouring yourself by doing what you are really meant to be
doing with the unique set of passions
and talents that you possess within. (Research
based on work Sir KenRobinson)

Meditative practise

Yoga
Meditation, mindfulness and deep breathing exercises are all ways to help you relax,
be centered and gain the time and space to clarify what you want to achieve and
who you are. Yoga meditation and stretching helps your body be supple and
flexible, preventing injury and as some say open up your energy channels.
However meditative practice also reduces inflammation and even cellular aging. Nobel Prize Winner Elizabeth Blackburn
researched that that a 43% increase in the Telomerase Activity could be seen
through 12minutes of daily yoga mediation, slowing down cellular ageing. Harvard Professor Herbert Benson saw
meditation as an addition to tackling and prevent onset of depression through
the stress reductive qualities meditative practice generates. Through the
practice of deep breathing you can also activate the vagus nerve that produces
acetylcholine. It is like a natural tranquilizer that you can use when you need
it; Simply take a few deep breaths with long exhales. This conscious tapping
into the power of the vagus nerve fosters reducing in inflammation and helps
reach a state of inner-calm Psychology
Today
writes. Just being mindful enables you to poke your head out of a
busy or stressful situation and reach for a better and mutually beneficial solution.

Supportive family & friends

They say
those with a strong support networks are more likely to withstand the pressures
of modern life. They know they have a team with them. It’s healthy to stay
connected and talk. Sharing your feelings is therapeutic and cathartic, lifting
the spirits as you share something about you, with someone who loves, cherishes
and cares for you.

However not
everyone has the luxury or need for strong family or friendship networks. This
does not mean you cannot feel you have a team around you. Maya Angelou puts it
beautifully; ‘When you walk into that room bring your people with you, all
those people who have ever been kind to you or loved you. They might be long
gone, you might never have met them but take courage and strength to know of the team that is behind you all the way’.
You are not alone.. Just as your mind can bring you down you can learn to help
your mind lift itself up and harness it’s positive qualities.

Sleep

Research
from the Great British Sleep Survey shows that people who have poor
night sleeps feel five times more likely to feel alone and seven times more
likely to feel helpless.

When we do
not have regular good night sleep, Dr Michael Breus, the author of
Beauty Sleep
has found, that we are more prone to illness – because our
body hasn’t had time to regenerate itself through sleep (in the dark). We are
more prone to stress – as our mood is affected and our minds are more fragile
and we thus have less control over how outside/or inside stimuli of the negative
type affects us, and find relationships more challenging. Additionally our
decision making is impaired and we are more likely to have traffic accidents. What
having good sleep habits does do is it improves our psychological health as Harvard
Medical School
has researched.

Our integrity is improved,
which helps us find our Flow (and keep following the right Flow) and not get
influenced by others opinions of us or what we ‘should’ do. When we are well
rested we are more likely to be in tune with ourselves and make decisions based
on what our values are and thus also pick up on opportunities that lead us
towards our goals ( if you focus your mind on a goal your brain is more likely
to pick up on opportunities related to this goal – a bit like your own search
engine –fabulous!).

If lack of time is concern : Arianna Huffington’s words
of wisdom, in her book Thrive,
come back to me – Treat your bedtime like an important appointment. Schedule
sleep in like one of your appointments.

Healthy Eating

Looking at the
research it seems more and more evident how beneficial a nutritious and plant
based diet is for us. It seems to be healthiest way forward for our bodies and
minds. Research confirms how eating vegetable not only heals your body, it
prevents you from all sorts of cancers and diseases, it lowers your blood
pressure and cholesterol, it keeps your arteries healthy, boosts your immune
system and reduces inflammation Science Online writes. This they say
maybe is due to the nutrients they contain, like antioxidants, which are the
ones that reduce DNA damage and reduction in some cancers, prevent heart
diseases and even early death. DNA damage prevention! Wowzer ! It is indeed
this that got me into reducing my meat intake and increasing my vegetable
intake daily.

And how does it affect
the mind: What I have noticed is that I do not feel so heavy and sleepy anymore
after eating, which in return means I am more active and make decisions with
more ease. What you eat you become.

Exercise

Exercising regularly
boosts your self-esteem, helps you concentrate and sleep better but also makes
you feel better due to the natural feel good hormones it creates (the
endorphins) and of course the strength, balance and stamina you gain through it.
Now that I have a bike I drift off instantly when my head hits the pillow.

If you exercise in a
green space this increases self-esteem and mood of
participants (Institute
for European Environmental Policy research). People with pre-existing mental health conditions benefitted from the
increase in self-esteem considerably (Barton & Pretty 2010). To me doing my
two or three times a week 5km runs, daily 15 minute yoga stretching and cycling
to commute as often as possible really is a vital way to keep my mind and body
in balance. The difference in my wellbeing is significant to when I was not
exercising at all in my twenties.

Nature

I love nature. When I
work from home I go for my 2pm walks in a nearby park. Especially if I’m tense
or can’t seem to focus returning back from my walk enables me to get back and
do what I need to do. I am a firm believer nature is good for us in many
aspects. Research shows being in nature reduces your heart rate and makes you
feel good, increasing positive emotions and feelings of vitality in you, Tyrvainen et all 2014 found. Mind.org has found that exercising,
being and working in nature has several benefits; it reduces depression, anger,
stress, improves your mood and increases emotional resilience. And working on
your allotment (with friends) couldn’t be better for you! The Institute for European Environmental Policy Research
saw doctors prescribe less anti-depressants in urban areas with more trees on
the street (by Taylor et all (2015)).
The access to nature can
reduce behavioural problems in children too such as hyperactivity, emotional
symptoms and peer relationship problems (Amoley
et all 2014
). Pregnant women who lived closer to nature and parks had lower
blood pressure. The amazing things nature does to us. When will you schedule in
your weekly nature walk? Find your closest park and start there.

Disconnect (devices)

How often do you switch
off your devices? If you check your devices before you even get up you are
allowing the outside world’s agenda to rule your life. If you want clarity in
your mind for the day creating a morning routine that does not include, TV,
radio or any devices that can distract you from You and Your plans is helpful.

In the evening take
care not to check your phone before going to bed as the blue light from the
devices also impair your sleep cycle and production of Melatonin in your brain
which regulates your internal body clock making it a less restful and
reinvigorating sleep for body and mind.

What I have come to realise over the years of striving
towards my goals and creating a life that I want to live is that I have much
more power than I initially thought possible in creating my reality. And the
power I have gained has been through first and foremost taking care of and
managing my mind and body. The vessel that will help you get there.

Until next month dear reader. Let me know what you found
useful in this article?

Big love

Petra xx