Written by Emma Dinsmore
In this issue of Clarity, we've got the second in our 'Top Up' series - mental health! We've got 5 tips to keep you on top of your week. For the full feature and a chance to measure your mental health, grab your issue!
Why might our mental health need attention?
It’s impossible to be totally healthy without having good mental health. Positive mental health determines how we handle stress, interact with others and make choices in our lives. Anxiety and depression are the most common UK problems, but there are thousands of us who struggle with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and OCD, to name just a few. The 2008 Foresight report recommends “Five ways to mental wellbeing”: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give. We’re going to expand on each of these in this article. We shouldn’t wait to start caring for our mental health until we struggle with it so let's get started...
Social media can be a wonderful thing, connecting us with best friends, distant friends, friends we’ve never even met. The average Facebook user has 155 friends, though we all know at least one with 1,000+! ‘Dunbar’s number’ is a suggested limit of the number of people one can maintain social relationships with and is commonly suggested to be 150. Take a look at your friend list - how many do you have? I personally have nearly 400. I’m not suggesting a huge cull - we all have different relationships with many people whom we want to keep in contact with, be they old school friends, colleagues, that girl you met at Soul Survivor when you were 14 and really clicked with… However, have a look at exactly who you are friends with on any social media platform and consider how seeing their life updates makes you feel. If you find you’re constantly comparing your life with someone who you haven’t met or haven’t seen or spoken to in a number of years, maybe it’s time to unfollow them? If you can’t bear the thought, why not message them to arrange a meet up? A face to face meeting is always better than screen to screen and you’ll be able to see and talk to the much more rounded person behind the sunny holiday snaps.
Be active and take notice
We can kill two birds with one stone here (pardon the expression)! A study by King’s College London, with landscape architects J & L Gibbons and art foundation Nomad Projects, has found that a walk outside could make you feel great for up to seven hours! Even if you live in a built up city, there will be glimpses of nature and joy all around you. Why not venture out one lunchtime a week and intentionally notice all of the beautiful things you often miss? It may be a blossoming tree, children playing in a park, a cute dog or the smell of food from a food stall. Studies have shown that paying attention to what is happening in the present moment can directly enhance your wellbeing, so if your brain is crowded with worries and stresses, step outside! If you spot something beautiful, take a photo on your phone and save it as your background to remind you of it. If you can’t take a long enough lunch break to go for a decent walk, carve out some time at the weekend to go and explore. Whilst taking notice of things can slow us down, walking briskly to get your heart rate up can help you build stamina, burn calories, make your heart healthier and of course flood you with those mood boosting endorphins!
Whether you loved or hated school, consider yourself ‘academic’, or like or loathe reading, research has shown that learning throughout life can bring greater satisfaction and optimism, as well as an improved ability to get the most out of life. Learning doesn’t have to mean going back to school and gaining more qualifications (though it can mean that if it is what will bring you joy and fulfilment). The NHS suggest various broad ways to approach learning something new: - Learn to cook a dish you love that you’ve never cooked at home. What’s your go-to meal at your favourite restaurant? Could you replicate it at home? - Visit a gallery or museum and take the time to read and learn about a person, event, place or object that interests you. Or visit an exhibition of something you’ve never heard of before. - Learn a skill where you use your hands, such as knitting, fixing a bike or painting. - Download an app like Duolingo and learn a new language in a fun way. Think of where learning Dutch or Vietnamese could take you!
“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7), but did you know that giving can make you cheerful? The Mental Health Foundation says that giving can help lower stress levels, improve your emotional wellbeing and even help your physical health. When you help other people, it “promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness”. There are so many ways to give, be it financially, through donating clothes, volunteering time or doing those wonderful small acts of kindness. If you are a member of a church, it is likely there are loads of opportunities for you to volunteer your time. Are you great with kids? Can you make a decent brew? How are your techy skills? Not only does serving in church help to make you feel better, it also helps to build community and can help the church to run more smoothly. In your day-to-day life, look out for opportunities to show kindness. Not only will you improve the day of the person you help, you will also improve your own day! Think of writing a lovely note to a relative you don’t see often, or buying a bunch of flowers for the friend you’re meeting for coffee. Making the world a better place and improving your mood - sounds good to us!