Yesterday marked the beginning of Men’s Mental Health week in the UK. The focus on the topic for a short time will improve exposure to avenues where help and support are available. It is more important to note that there needs to be more emphasis on this all year round.
Within the past 12 months, we have seen a global pandemic that has devastated the entire population and brought the world to a halt at times. This, of course, has had some serious repercussions for many individuals from money worries, job losses, isolation, serious physical health complications, even death.
It is clear there has been an overwhelming increase in mental health troubles for both males and females, with suicide rates increasing significantly within the past year. The depth of the issue far exceeds the scope of this article; therefore, the objective is to highlight ways that we can recognise, understand, and improve mental health.
First and foremost, one of the most significant errors that occur with mental health is not preventing the decline of your mental health. There is so much information on dealing with bad mental health; however, what often occurs is that it happens too late, and it's already more difficult to recover from. Mental health will not change rapidly; it takes time, it’s a slow build-up for it to occur, and it can be a slow recovery. A sure way to fight bad mental health is to take care of it before it slips, making the road to recovery shorter when it becomes challenging. Often, the ways to prevent it mirror how to recover from bad mental health, but the key is doing it before it happens.
Below are some ways to ensure that you optimise your lifestyle and prevent declines in mental health.
Probably the most underrated “medicines” for mental health is good old physical exercise. The evidence behind physical exercise and good mental health continues to build every month. However, there is still A LOT of work to truly demonstrate the effectiveness of exercise in preventing or improving bad mental health. The tide is slowly changing with people and even governments getting behind exercise as a very effective treatment method. The research also shows that it doesn’t matter which type of exercise you do as long as it challenges your physical ability. So, find something you love, whether it's weight training, yoga or sports; get moving, and you’ll be on your way to better mental health. The way that exercise benefits your mental health can be an in-depth article on its own but understanding that it will improve blood flow to your brain and release “feel good” hormones every time you do it makes it an easy decision to get started. A few other ways (not an exhaustive list) that exercise can improve your physical and mental health include:
Following on from exercise, it is essential to make positive changes to your nutrition to support your training and overall health. Nobody is asking you to eat a rigid diet for “fat loss” here; in fact, it’s not about weight at all; it’s about health! Your gut microbiome is a breeding ground for bacteria. You must keep fuelling it with foods of higher quality, which are less refined, so that the “good” bacteria can multiply. The opposite is true when you keep pushing low-quality foods through your body, breeding harmful bacteria and significantly reducing the quality of your gut function. The relationship between your gut and mental health is becoming more and more understood and showing a direct correlation between those that have bad mental health and bad gut health. So, in short, when you improve your diet (and in turn your gut), you will improve your mental health. Again, making small steps to improving your nutrition over the long term is vital; focus on the quality of food and the rest will follow.
We all know we need to sleep. But just how important is sleep? Again, being such a complex topic, the benefits of sleep are complex but completely underrated. Focussing on getting better quality sleep as well as more of it should be your primary concern. It is clear that sleep-deprived individuals are more stressed and, in turn, cope less with challenges which can lead to bad mental health, primarily if this occurs over a long period. Ways to improve your sleep include:
4) Make time for YOU
The above topics are pretty solid and grounded in evidence. Taking time out for yourself can be a little less “exact” in how they work as it differs from person to person. The key here is to understand that taking time out for yourself is essential to living a life that gives you back what you need. Reserving time to do the things you enjoy, whether to train in the gym, go for a walk or read a book, all help to unwind and improve your mental health. If you can look at your day or even over a week and you don’t have a designated time for yourself, it will only be a matter of time before that pressure builds up and causes you to feel overwhelmed.
The above topics are essential and should be the focal point for you to target when setting up a good routine to support positive mental health. If everyone could take time to exercise, eat and sleep well whilst doing more of what they love, I am pretty confident we would see a rapid turnaround in the nation's health, both physical and mental.
So what happens when it’s not going to plan? When you’ve not managed to focus on the things that matter, and you are already feeling the strain or, even worse, seen a decline in your mental health? As many people have experienced, negative mental health can be crippling and often too difficult to see a way out. Therefore, unfortunately, people can often feel like there “no point” in trying. I’m here to tell you that there is ALWAYS a way.
Treating mental health is rarely an exact science as the human brain is so complex. Each individual will react and think completely different, so you need to figure out what works for you. The following information will help you to understand what you can do when things get tough, and you need to get back on track.
1) Understand that it is NORMAL
A common theme amongst people feeling “down” or depressed is that they are not normal. This is a toxic mindset and one that will lead to a downward spiral if not addressed. Understanding that it is very normal to have fluctuations in your state of mind based on events in your life will give you the confidence in knowing that everyone has lows, and improvements often follow them. It’s learning to recognise when it becomes a pattern of feeling low and knowing how to improve it.
2) Don’t be afraid to SPEAK UP
A very effective way to address negative self-talk is to talk to someone. It sounds so simple, but that’s the beauty of it. Most people have many people around them that they can speak to; even just a simple conversation to air the issue will often leave you feeling refreshed and have a new outlook on it. By keeping things to ourselves, we tend to compartmentalise problems, and it becomes distorted, constantly feeling worse than it is. Speaking to others is a sign of STRENGTH, not weakness, as you are taking control of your health, and it should be done more often. If you don’t have anyone “close” to speak to or you think that they won't want to hear your thoughts, then do not hesitate to reach out and talk to a mental health charity and talk to them. Whatever you do, SPEAK UP, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
3) Keep a journal
By writing down events regularly (every day if possible), you can process your life in real-time and review how you feel about it. It will make it more straightforward for you to see how to respond, and you may even start to see patterns in the things that make you feel good and the things that make you overwhelmed. By knowing this, you can learn to make better decisions and look out for yourself more effectively.
4) Put yourself first
This is a necessary mindset to build. Understanding that to be your best, you must learn to protect yourself. Like “making time for you” above, it is essential to recognise that learning to put yourself first and ensuring you optimise your physical and mental health will allow you to be your best. This is often is the case, but you should never feel guilty about putting yourself first.
The information above can only really scratch the surface when it comes to addressing mental health. It is, unfortunately, becoming more and more evident that we are facing a mental health crisis within the UK and across the globe. The current issues the world has faced become a significant issue to tackle. I feel that there is a looming mental health epidemic that we will face soon. By spreading the word to as many people as possible and having a better understanding of mental health, we can do more to improve our nation's health. As a gym owner, I see first-hand how physical activity can improve people's physical and mental well-being that embrace fitness as part of their lifestyle.
Wherever you are at right now personally, be clear that you can improve your health by making small and incremental changes over time. Achieving optimal health takes time, and building a lifestyle that is enjoyable and sustainable is your key.
We all have a duty of care to look out for ourselves and the people we care about. Whilst we cannot help everyone, everyone can help someone, and when we take that approach, the world will be in a better place.
If you need help making changes in your life to improve your health, be it physical or mental, do not be afraid to reach out.