Bringing mental health to the forefront of our minds
We’re back, and we’re talking about wellbeing. After an unplanned hiatus as I moved to Barcelona and got myself sorted, I’m here to consider mental health, and encourage you to do the same. (Don’t worry, Bright Green Enterprise is still operational in the UK, I’m just sending you the written word from slightly sunnier Spain!)
After a few weeks of wrestling with the Spanish bureaucracy, seemingly endless amounts of paperwork, appointment making, and trips to various offices around the city, I’m ready to send you a little note. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this situation has got me thinking about my wellbeing, and how I am making time to care for my mental health.
But, does it really matter?
Like physical illness, mental ill health can affect anybody and everybody. Taking care of our mental health should, therefore, be as equally important. How many of us really take the time to care for our minds?
What is Wellbeing?
Wellbeing is the subjective state of being comfortable, healthy or happy, with mental wellbeing specifically describing your mental state. Good mental wellbeing is demonstrated with high emotional resilience, management of emotions, productive engagement (in society and your own life), the fostering and building of positive relationships, and the ability to cope with uncertainty. Reflecting on these, do you think you have good mental wellbeing? Or maybe you need to show yourself a bit of well deserved tlc?
Mental health has become something of a buzzword over the last couple of years, and with good reason. This isn’t a trend that’s sprung out of the nothingness. There is a very real and pressing need to bring mental health into the spotlight, and create safe spaces for important conversations to be held.
Having personally experienced a difficult journey with mental ill health, I am all for anything that thrusts this issue to the forefront. We’ve seen campaigns springing up all over social media – #InYourCorner and #AskTwice from Time to Change, Heads Together from Mind, to name a couple. Plus, with TV and radio adverts highlighting negative stereotypes, and brands promoting positive mental health, it seems like the ball is really rolling. And I hope it doesn’t stop.
With all these messages now available to us, and encouraging us to be more mentally aware, there can still be some confusion as to how exactly we are supposed to champion our mental health.
Five ways to wellbeing is promoted by mental health charities across the globe, as a means to an easily-digestible approach to caring for our mental wellbeing. These Five Ways have been researched and developed by the New Economics Foundation, and you can read the full breakdown here.
Most people would say they don’t have a clue how to help themselves mentally, but these strategies make you realise that even the most simple of actions in our lives can make a positive difference to our health. And actually, I’m sure most people already use these strategies without realising intentionally what they are doing.
Five simple headings to help you bring some brain-friendly actions into your daily life.
Some of my favourite ways to action these five ways are:
Connect: calling a friend instead of texting them, smiling at passersby (I always get a smile back!)
Be active: getting off the bus/metro one stop early, daily stretching or a walk to the beach, always taking stairs when I can (except at home where I live on the 10th floor!)
Take notice: never using my phone as I walk so I really notice everything around me, mindful eating, getting into some nature to reconnect with the natural world around me.
Keep learning: learning Spanish has made me keen to learn more languages, it’s a great way to engage new bits of your brain, and opens up so many other learning opportunities!
Give: I like to combine this with the Take Notice part, by giving my time without distraction when I am with friends or family, as well as volunteering when I can. OR even just being aware and helping strangers with their bags/buggies when I see them struggling!
As you can see, it’s small actions that can really have a big impact on our overall wellbeing. Nothing needs to be extravagant or showy, or have too much importance attached to it.
The conversation around mental health has been especially pertinent in schools, as higher and higher numbers of young people are struggling. Thank goodness that the conversation is opening up, and allowing young people space to share their struggles and to find the support they need and deserve.
I’ve been incredibly moved and delighted to hear of the schools and other educational institutions who are taking the mental health of their students seriously. In fact, at the beginning of this year, the government has for the first time, invested public funds into the study of mindfulness in the classroom. They are acknowledging the importance of mental health education for primary-school age children, and the long-lasting benefits this can have on their wellbeing. 370 schools will take part in a series of trials to learn mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises and relaxation strategies. [Read more here].
We already know that appropriate mental wellbeing strategies can work in a school environment. Especially when they are used as an intervention tool, to replace outdated, ineffective and harmful punishments. (I’m referring to detentions and suspensions here, just so we’re clear).
In the UK, the work of Mindfulness in Schools Project, or MiSP, has been bringing mindfulness to the classroom for 10 years. Their curricula is designed by teachers, for teachers, to bring the very best, practical and accessible mindfulness practices into fruition within class-based environments. Their toolkit ranges from free online webinars, to short in-school taster sessions, to their teaching mindfulness courses. Whatever the needs of the teacher or students, MiSP offer fantastic solutions to bring the benefits directly where they are needed.
Mindfulness strategies have been found to be extremely effective for students, children and young people to help manage their thoughts, emotions and impulses. Learning and putting into practice such useful tools from an early age means they are more prepared for challenges in later life, and able to face difficulties with a higher level of emotional resilience. As far as I’m concerned, mental health education, mindfulness, and wellbeing strategies should be a part of standard curriculum, allowing its lessons and learning to be carried on into every adults’ life.
I didn’t receive any kind of mental health education when I was in the educational system, and I know it’s a long road until every student has a readily-accessible toolkit at their fingertips. But, even if mental health was a taboo subject whilst you were at school, it’s never too late to start taking steps to improve your wellbeing. As adults, we may be slightly more set in our daily actions and behaviours, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the necessary changes. For me, my wellbeing will never be too much of an inconvenience. After all, I’ve only got one body, which includes my brain, so I’d better do my best to take care of it. Using the five ways to wellbeing, as mentioned above, is a really easy way to lay out the easy ways in which we can be active in our own ongoing health. Why not start today?
As I settle into my new home, I’ll be looking out for opportunities where I can connect with my new environment; be active every day to nourish my body; take notice of my surroundings and the people I encounter; keep learning as I adapt to a new lifestyle and culture; and give something back to my new community. I’m making time for my mental health, and I hope you will too.
Author: Rachel Calnan